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Full text of "Sheridan"

,.;. t| ,., . 



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Jtlen of Ceiters 

EDITED BY JOHN MORLEY 



Sberioan 



by 



MRS. MARGARET 0LIPHANT 

AUTHOR OF 

" CHRONICLES OF CARLINGFORD " " DANTE " 
"MAKERS OF VENICE" ETC. 



/iDen of ^Letters 

EDITED BY 

JOHN MORLEY 




HARPER & BROTHERS PUBLISHERS 

NEW YORK AND LONDON 
1901 




NOV 91949 



NOTE. 



THE most important and, on the whole, trustworthy life of 
Sheridan is that of Moore, published in 1825, nine years after 
Sheridan's death, and founded upon the fullest information, 
with the help of all that Sheridan had left behind in the 
way of papers, and all that the family could furnish along 
with Moore's own personal recollections. It is not a very 
characteristic piece of work, and greatly dissatisfied the 
friends and lovers of Sheridan ; but its authorities are un- 
impeachable. A previous Memoir by Dr. Watkins, the work 
of a political opponent and detractor, was without either 
this kind of authorisation or any grace of personal knowl- 
edge, and has fallen into oblivion. Very different is the 
brief sketch by the well-known Professor Smyth, a most val- 
uable and interesting contribution to the history of Sheridan. 
It concerns, indeed, only the later part of his life, but it is the 
most life-like and, under many aspects, the most touching 
contemporary portrait that has been made of him. With 
the professed intention of making up for the absence of char- 
acter in Moore's Life, a small volume of SHEKIDANIANA was 
published the year after, which is full of amusing anecdotes, 
but little, if any, additional information. Other essays on 
the subject have been many. Scarcely an edition of Sher- 
idan's plays has been published (and they are numberless) 
without a biographical notice, good or bad. The most 
noted of these is perhaps the Biographical and Critical Sketch 



vi NOTE. 

of Leigh Hunt, which does not, however, pretend to any new 
light, and is entirely unsympathetic. Much more recently a 
book of personal Recollections by an Octogenarian promised to 
afford new information ; but, except for the froth of certain 
dubious and not very savoury stories of the Prince Regent 
period, failed to do so. 



CONTENTS. 

CHAPTER L 
His YOUTH 1 

CHAPTER H. 
His FIRST DRAMATIC WORKS 43 

CHAPTER IIL 
THE "SCHOOL FOR SCANDAL" 73 

CHAPTER IV. 
PUBLIC LIFE . 112~ 



CHAPTER V. 
MIDDLE AGE 144 

CHAPTER VI. 
DECADENCE . . 167 



RICHARD BR1NSLEY SHERIDAN. 



CHAPTER I. 

HIS YOUTH. 

RICHARD BEINSLKY BUTLER SHERIDAN was born in Dub- 
lin, in the month of September, 1751, of a family which 
had already acquired some little distinction of a kind quite 
harmonious with the after fame of him who made its name 
so familiar to the world. The Sheridans were of that An- 
glo-Irish type which has given so much instruction and 
amusement to the world, and which has indeed in its wit 
and eccentricity so associated itself with the fame of its 
adopted country, that we might almost say it is from this 
peculiar variety of the race that we have all taken our 
idea of the national character. It will be a strange thing 
to discover, after so many years' identification of the idio- 
syncrasy as Irish, that in reality it is a hybrid, and not na- 
tive to the soil. The race of brilliant, witty, improvident, 
and reckless Irishmen whom we have all been taught to 
admire, excuse, love, and condemn the Goldsmiths, the 
Sheridans, and many more that will occur to the reader 
all belong to this mingled blood. Many are more Irish, 
according to our present understanding of the word, than 
their compatriots of a purer race ; but perhaps it is some- 
1* 



2 RICHARD BRIXSLEY SHERIDAN. [CHAP. 

thing of English energy which has brought them to the 
front, to the surface, with an indomitable life which mis- 
fortune and the most reckless defiance of all the laws of liv- 
ing never seein able to quench. Among these names, and 
not among the O'Connors and O'Briens, do we find all that 
is most characteristic, to modern ideas, in Irish manners 
and modes of thought. Nothing more distinct from the 
Anglo-Saxon type could be ; and yet it is separated from 
England in most cases only by an occasional mixture of 
Celtic blood often by the simple fact of establishment 
for a few generations on another soil. How it is that the 
bog and the mountain, the softer climate, the salt breath 
of the Atlantic, should have wrought this change, is a 
mystery of ethnology which we are quite incompetent to 
solve ; or whether it is mere external contact with an in- 
fluence which the native gives forth without being himself 
strongly affected by it, we cannot tell. But the fact re- 
mains that the most characteristic Irishmen those through 
whom we recognize the race are, as a matter of fact, so 
far as race is concerned, not Irishmen at all. The same 
fact tells in America, where a new type of character seems 
to have been ingrafted upon the old by the changed con- 
ditions of so vast a continent and circumstances so pecul- 
iar. Even this, however, is not so remarkable, in an alto- 
gether new society, as the absorption, by what was in real- 
ity an alien and a conquering race, of all that is most 
remarkable in the national character which they domi- 
nated and subdued unless, indeed, we take refuge in the 
supposition, which does not seem untenable, that this char- 
acter, which we have been so hasty in identifying with it, 
is not really Irish at all; and that we have not yet fath- 
omed the natural spirit, overlaid by such a couche of super- 
ficial foreign brilliancy, of that more mystic race, full of 



i.] HIS YOUTH. 3 

tragic elements, of visionary faith and purity, of wild re- 
venge and subtle cunning, which is in reality native to the 
old island of the saints. Certainly the race of Coluraba 
seems to have little in common with the race of Sheridan. 
The two immediate predecessors of the great dramatist 
are both highly characteristic figures, and thoroughly au- 
thentic, which is as much perhaps as any man of letters 
need care for. The first of these, Dr. Thomas Sheridan, 
Brinsley Sheridan's grandfather, was a clergyman and 
schoolmaster in Dublin in the early part of the eighteenth 
century by all reports an excellent scholar and able in- 
structor, but extravagant and hot-headed after his kind. 
He was the intimate friend and associate of Swift in his 
later years, and lent a little brightness to the great Dean's 
society when he returned disappointed to his Irish prefer- 
ment. Lord Orrery describes this genial but reckless par- 
son in terms which are entirely harmonious with the after 
development of the family character : 

" He had that kind of good nature which absence of mind, indo- 
lence of body, and carelessness of fortune produce ; and although 
not over-strict in his own conduct, yet he took care of the morality 
of his scholars, whom he sent to the- university remarkably well- 
grounded in all kinds of learning, and not ill-instructed in the social 
duties of life. He was slovenly, indigent, and cheerful. He knew 
books better than men, and he knew the value of money least of all." 

The chief point in Dr. Sheridan's career is of a tragi- 
comic character which still further increases the appro- 
priateness of his appearance at the head of his descend- 
ants. By Swift's influence he was appointed to a living in 
Cork, in addition to which he was made one of the Lord- 
lieutenant's chaplains, and thus put in the way of promo- 
tion generally. But on one unlucky Sunday the follow- 
ing incident occurred. It must be remembered that these 



4 RICHARD BRLXSLEY SHERIDAN. [CHAP. 

were the early days of the Hanoverian succession, and that 
Ireland had been the scene of the last struggle for the 
Stuarts. He was preaching in Cork, in the principal 
church of the town, on the 1st of August, which was kept 
as the King's birthday : 

" Dr. Sheridan, after a very solemn preparation, and when he had 
drawn to himself the mute attention of his congregation, slowly and 
emphatically delivered his text, Sufficient unto the day is the evil 
thereof. The congregation, being divided in political opinions, gave 
to the text a decided political construction, and on the reverend 
preacher again reading the text with more marked emphasis became 
excited, and listened to the sermon with considerable restlessness 
and anxiety." 

Another account describes this sermon as having been 
preached before the Lord -lieutenant himself, an honour 
for which the preacher was not prepared, and which con- 
fused him so much that he snatched up the first sermon 
that came to hand, innocent of all political intention, as 
well as of the date which gave such piquancy to his text. 
But, whatever the cause, the effect was disastrous. He 
" shot his fortune dead by chance-medley " with this single 
text. He lost his chaplaincy, and is even said to have 
been forbidden the viceregal court, and all the ways of 
promotion were closed to him for ever. But his spirit 
was not broken by his evil luck. "Still he remained a 
punster, a quibbler, a fiddler, and a wit. Not a day 
passed without a rebus, an anagram, or a madrigal. His 
pen and his fiddle were constantly in motion." He had 
" such a ready wit and flow of humour that it was impos- 
sible for any, even the most splenetic man, not to be cheer- 
ful in his company." " In the invitations sent to the Dean, 
Sheridan was always included ; nor was Swift to be seen 
in perfect good humour unless when he made part of the 



i.J HIS YOUTH. 5 

company." Nothing could be more congenial to the name 
of Sheridan than the description of this light-hearted and 
easy-minded clerical humorist, whose wit no doubt flashed 
like lightning about all the follies of the mimic court which 
had cast him out, and whose jovial, hand-to-month exist- 
ence had all that accidentalness and mixture of extrava- 
gance and penury which is the natural atmosphere of such 
reckless souls. It is even said that Swift made use of his 
abilities and appropriated his wit: the reader must judge 
for himself whether the Dean had any need of thieving 
in that particular. 

Dr. Sheridan's son, Thomas Sheridan, was a very differ- 
ent man. He was very young when he was left to make 
his way in the world for himself; he had been designed, 
it would appear, to be a schoolmaster, like his father ; but 
the stage has always had an attraction for those whose as- 
sociations are connected with that more serious stage, the 
pulpit, and Thomas Sheridan became an actor. He is the 
author of a life of Swift, said to be " pompous and dull " 
qualities which seem to have mingled oddly in his own 
character with the light-hearted recklessness of his race. 
His success on the stage was not so great as was his pop- 
ularity as a teacher of elocution, an art for which he seems 
to have conceived an almost fanatical enthusiasm. Con- 
sidering oratory, not without reason, as the master of all 
arts, he spent a great part of his life in eager efforts to 
form a school for its study, after a method of his own. 
This was not a successful project, nor, according to the lit- 
tle gleam of light thrown upon his system by Dr. Parr, 
does it seem to have been a very elevated one. " One of 
Richard's sisters now and then visited Harrow," he says, 
"and well do I remember that in the house where I lodged 
she triumphantly repeated Dryden's ode upon St. Cecilia's 



6 RICHARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAN. [CHAP. 

Day, according to the instruction given her by her father. 
Take a sample : 

' None but the brave, 
None but the brave, 
None but the brave deserve the fair.' " 

Thomas Sheridan, however, was not without apprecia- 
tion as an actor, and, like every ambitious player of the 
time, had his hopes of rivalling Garrick, and was fondly 
considered by his friends to be worthy comparison with 
that king of actors. He married a lady who held no in- 
considerable place in the light literature of the time, which 
was little, as yet, invaded by feminine adventure the 
author of a novel called Sidney Biddulph and of various 
plays. And there is a certain reflection of the same kind 
of friendship which existed between Swift and the elder 
Sheridan in Boswell's description, in his Life of Johnson, 
of the loss his great friend had sustained through a quarrel 
with Thomas Sheridan, "of one of his most agreeable re- 
sources for amusement in his lonely evenings." It would 
appear that at this time (1763) Sheridan and his wife 
were settled in London : 

" Sheridan's well-informed, animated, and bustling mind never suf- 
fered conversation to stagnate," Boswell adds, " and Mrs. Sheridan 
was a most agreeable companion to an intellectual man. She was 
sensible, ingenious, unassuming, yet communicative. I recollect with 
satisfaction many pleasing hours which I passed with her under the 
hospitable roof of her husband, who was to me a very kind friend. 
Her novel entitled Memoirs of Miss Sidney Biddulph contains an ex- 
cellent moral, while it inculcates a future state of retribution ; and 
what it teaches is impressed upon the mind by a series of as deep 
distresses as can afflict humanity in the amiable and pious heroine. 
. . Johnson paid her this high compliment upon it: 'I know not, 
madam, that you have a right upon high principles to make your 
readers suffer so much.' " 



i.] HIS YOUTH. 1 

The cause of Johnson's quarrel with Sheridan is said to 
have been some slighting words reported to the latter, 
which Johnson had let fall when he heard that Sheridan 
had received a pension of 200 a year from Government. 
" What ! have they given him a pension ? Then it is time 
for me to give up mine" a not unnatural cause of offence, 
and all the more so that Sheridan flattered himself he had, 
by his interest with certain members of the ministry, who 
had been his pupils, helped to procure his pension for 
Johnson himself. 

These were the palmy days of the Sheridan family. 
Their children, of whom Richard was the third, had been 
born in Dublin, where the two little boys, Richard and his 
elder brother, Charles, began their education under the 
charge of a schoolmaster named Whyte, to whom they 
were committed with a despairing letter from their mother, 
who evidently had found the task of their education too 
much for her. Perhaps Mrs. Sheridan, in an age of epi- 
grams, was not above the pleasure, so seductive to all who 
possess the gift, of writing a clever letter. She tells the 
schoolmaster that the little pupils she is sending him will 
be his tutors in the excellent quality' of patience. " I have 
hitherto been their only instructor," she says, " and they 
have sufficiently exercised mine, for two such impenetrable 
dunces I never met with." This is the first certificate with 
which the future wit and dramatist appeared before the 
world. When the parents went to London, in 1762, the 
boys naturally accompanied them. And this being a time 
of prosperity, when Thomas Sheridan had Cabinet Minis- 
ters for his pupils, and interest enough to help the great 
man of letters of the age to a pension, it is not to be won- 
dered if that hope which never springs eternal in any hu- 
man breast so warmly as in that of a man who lives by his 



8 RICHARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAN. [CHAP 

wits, and never knows what the morrow may bring forth, 
should have so encouraged the vivacious Irishman as to in- 
duce him to send his boys to Harrow, proud to give them 
the best of education, and opportunity of making friends 
for themselves. His pension, his pupils, his acting, his 
wife's literary gains, all conjoined to give a promise of 
prosperity. When his friends discussed him behind his 
back it is true they were not very favourable to him. 
" There is to be seen in Sheridan something to reprehend, 
and everything to laugh at," says Johnson, in his " big 
bow-wow style ;" " but, sir, he is not a bad man. No, sir : 
were mankind to be divided into good and bad, he would 
stand considerably within the ranks of the good." The 
same authority said of him that though he could " exhibit 
no character," yet he excelled in " plain declamation ;" and 
he was evidently received in very good society, and was 
hospitable and entertained his friends, as it was his nature 
to do. Evidently, too, he had no small opinion of him- 
self. It is from Johnson's own mouth that the following 
anecdote at once of his liberality and presumption is de- 
rived. It does not show his critic, perhaps, in a more 
favourable light : 

" Sheridan is a wonderful admirer of the tragedy of Douglas, and 
presented its author with a gold medal. Some years ago, at a coffee- 
house in Oxford, I called to him, ' Mr. Sheridan, Mr. Sheridan ! how 
came you to give a gold medal to Home for writing that horrid play ?' 
This you see was wanton and insolent ; but I meant to be wanton 
and insolent. A medal has no value but as a stamp of merit, and 
was Sheridan to assume to himself the right of giving that stamp ? 
If Sheridan was magnificent enough to bestow a gold medal as an 
honorary mark of dramatic merit, he should have requested one of 
the Universities to choose the person on whom it should be con- 
ferred. Sheridan had no right to give a stamp of merit; it was 
counterfeiting Apollo's coin." 



i.] HIS YOUTH. 

The Irishman's vanity, prodigality, and hasty assump- 
tion of an importance to which he had no right could 
scarcely be better exemplified nor, perhaps, the reader 
will say, the privileged arrogance of the great critic. It is 
more easy to condone the careless extravagance of the one 
than the deliberate insolence of the other. The comment, 
however, is just enough ; and so, perhaps, was his descrip- 
tion of the Irishman's attempt to improve the elocution 
of his contemporaries. " What influence can Mr. Sheridan 
have upon the language of this great country by his narrow 
exertions ?" asks the great lexicographer. " Sir, it is burn- 
ing a candle at Dover to show light at Calais." But when 
Johnson says, " Sir, Sherry is dull, naturally dull : but it 
must have taken him a great deal of pains to become what 
we now see him. Such an excess of stupidity, sir, is not 
in nature" we acknowledge the wit, but doubt the fact. 
Thomas Sheridan very likely wanted humour, and was 
unable to perceive when he made himself ridiculous, as in 
the case of the medal ; but we want a great deal more evi- 
dence to induce us to believe that the son of the jovial 
Dublin priest, and the father of Sheridan the great, could 
have been dull. He was very busy. " bustling," as Bos- 
well calls him, his schemes going to his head, his, vanity 
and enthusiasm combined making him feel himself an un- 
appreciated reformer a prophet thrown away upon an 
ungrateful age. But stupidity had nothing to do with his 
follies. He was " a wrong-headed, whimsical man," Dr. 
Parr tells us, but adds, " I respected him, and he really 
liked me and did me some important services." " I once 
or twice met his (Richard Sheridan's) mother: she was 
quite celestial." Such are the testimonies of their con- 
temporaries. 

It was not long, however, that the pair were able to re- 
B 27 



10 RICHARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAN. [CHAT. 

main in London. There is a whimsical indication of the 
state of distress into which Thomas Sheridan soon fell in 
the mention by Boswell of " the extraordinary attention 
in his own country " with which he had been " honoured," 
by having had " an exception made in his favour in an 
Irish Act of Parliament concerning insolvent debtors." 
" Thus to be singled out," says Johnson, " by Legislature 
as an object of public consideration and kindness is a 
proof of no common merit." It was a melancholy kind 
of proof, however, and one which few would choose to be 
gratified by. The family went to France, leaving their 
boys at Harrow, scraping together apparently as much as 
would pay their expenses there no small burden upon a 
struggling man. And at Blois, in 1766, Mrs. Sheridan 
died. " She appears," says Moore, " to have been one of 
those rare women who, united to men of more pretensions 
but less real intellect than themselves, meekly conceal this 
superiority even from their own hearts, and pass their lives 
without a remonstrance or murmur in gently endeavour- 
ing to repair those evils which the indiscretion or vanity 
of their partners have brought upon them." Except that 
she found him at seven an impenetrable dunce, there is 
no record of any tie of sympathy existing between Mrs. 
Sheridan and her brilliant boy. 

He had not perhaps, indeed, ever appeared in this char- 
acter during his mother's lifetime. At Harrow he made 
but an unsatisfactory appearance. " There was little in 
his boyhood worth communication," says Dr. Parr, whose 
long letter on the subject all Sheridan's biographers quote; 
" he was inferior to many of his schoolfellows in the ordi- 
nary business of a school, and I do not remember any one 
instance in which he distinguished himself by Latin or 
English composition, either in prose or verse." This is 



i.] HIS YOUTH. 11 

curious enough ; but it is not impossible that the wayward 
boy, if he did adventure himself in verse, would think it 
best to keep his youthful compositions sacred from a mas- 
ter's eye. Verse writers, both in the dead languages and 
in the living, flourished at Harrow in those days of whom 
no one has heard since, " but Richard Sheridan aspired to 
no rivalry with either of them." Notwithstanding this 
absence of all the outward show of talent, Parr was not a 
man to remain unconscious of the glimmer of genius in 
the Irish boy's bright eyes. When he found that Dick 
would not construe as he ought, he laid plans to take him 
with craft, and " did not fail to probe and tease him " : 

" I stated his case with great good humour to the upper master, 
who was one of the best tempered men in the world : and it was 
agreed between us that Richard should be called of tener and worked 
more severely. The varlet was not suffered to stand up in his place, 
but was summoned to take his station near the master's table, where 
the voice of no prompter could reach him ; and in this defenceless 
condition he was so harassed that he at last gathered up some 
grammatical rules and prepared himself for his lessons. While this 
tormenting process was inflicted upon him I now and then upbraided 
him. But you will take notice that he did not incur any corporal 
punishment for his idleness : his industry was just sufficient to keep 
him from disgrace. All the while Sumner and I saw in him vestiges 
of a superior intellect. His eye, his countenance, his general man- 
ner, were striking ; his answers to any common question were prompt 
and acute. We knew the esteem and even admiration which some- 
how or other all his schoolfellows felt for him. He was mischievous 
enough, but his pranks were accompanied by a sort of vivacity and 
cheerfulness which delighted Sumner and myself. I had much talk 
with him about his apple loft, for the supply of which all the gardens 
in the neighbourhood were taxed, and some of the lower boys were 
employed to furnish it. I threatened, but without asperity, to trace 
the depredators through his associates up to the leader. He with 
perfect good humour set me at defiance, and I never could bring home 
the charge to him. All boys and all masters were pleased with him." 



12 RICHARD BRIXSLEY SHERIDAN. [CHAP. 

The amount of "good humour" in this sketch is 
enough to make the Harrow of last century look like a 
paradise ; and the humorous torture to which young 
Sheridan was subjected shows a high sense of the 
appropriate either in "the best tempered man in the 
world," or in the learned doctor who loved to set forth 
his own doings and judgment in the best light, and 
had the advantage of telling his story after events had 
shown what the pupil was. Parr, however, modestly 
disowns the credit of having developed the intellectual 
powers of Sheridan, and neither were they stimulated into 
literary effort by Sumner, the head-master of Harrow, who 
was a friend of his father, and had, therefore, additional 
opportunities of knowing the boy's capabilities. " We 
both of us discovered great talents which neither of us 
were capable of calling into action while Sheridan was a 
schoolboy," Parr says. In short, it is evident that the 
boy, always popular and pleasant, amusing and attracting 
his schoolfellows, and on perfectly amicable terms with 
the masters, even when he was doubtful about his lesson, 
took no trouble whatever with his work, and cared nothing 
for the honours of school. He kept himself afloat, and 
that was all. His sins were not grievous in any way. He 
had it not in his power to be extravagant, for Thomas 
Sheridan in his bankrupt condition must have had hard 
enough ado to keep his boys at Harrow at all. But it is 
very clear that neither scholarship nor laborious mental 
exertion of any kind tempted him. He took the world 
lightly and gaily, and enjoyed his schoolboy years all the 
more that there was nothing of the struggle of young am- 
bition in them. When his family came back from France, 
shortly after the mother's death, it is with a little gush of 
enthusiasm that his sister describes her first meeting after 



i.] HIS YOUTH. la 

long separation with the delightful brother whom she had 
half-forgotten, and who appears like a young hero in all 
the early bloom of seventeen, with his Irish charm and his 
Harrow breeding, to the eyes of the little girl, accustomed, 
no doubt, to shabby enough gentlemen in the cheap re- 
treats of English poverty in France : 

" He was handsome, not merely in the eyes of a partial sister, but 
generally allowed to be so. His cheeks had the glow of health, his 
eyes the finest in the world the brilliancy of genius, and were soft 
as a tender and affectionate heart could render them. The same 
playful fancy, the same sterling and innoxious wit that was shown 
afterwards in his writings, cheered and delighted the family circle. 
I admired I almost adored him !" 

No doubt the handsome, merry boy was a delightful 
novelty in the struggling family, where even the girls were 
taught to mouth verses, and the elder brother had begun 
to accompany his father on his half-vagabond career as a 
lecturer, to give examples of the system of elocution upon 
which he had concentrated all his faculties. After a short 
stay in London the family went to Bath, where for a time 
they settled, the place in its high days of fashion being pro- 
pitious to all the arts. The father, seldom at home, lived 
a hard enough life, lecturing, teaching, sometimes playing, 
pursuing his favourite object as hotly as was practicable 
through all the struggles necessary to get a living, such as 
it was, now abundant, now meagre, for his family ; while 
the girls and boys lived a sort of hap-hazard existence in 
the gay city, getting what amusement they could mother- 
less, and left to their own resources, yet finding society of 
a sufficiently exciting kind among the visitors with whom 
the town overflowed, and the artist-folk who entertained 
them. Here, while Charles worked with his father, Richard 
would seem to have done nothing at all, but doubtless 



14 RICHARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAN. [CHAP. 

strolled about the fashionable promenade among the bucks 
and beaux, and heard all that was going on, and saw the 
scandal-makers nod their heads together, and the officers 
now and then arrange a duel, and Lydia Languish ransack 
the circulating libraries. They were all about in those 
lively streets, Mrs. Malaprop deranging her epitaphs, and 
Sir Lucius with his pistols always ready, and the little 
waiting-maid tripping about the scene with Delia's letters 
and Broken Vows under her arm. The young gentleman 
swaggering among them saw everything without knowing 
it, and remembered those familiar figures when the time 
came ; but in the meanwhile did nothing, living pleasantly 
with his young sisters, no doubt very kind to them, and 
spending all the money the girls could spare out of their 
little housekeeping, and falling in love, the most natural 
amusement of all. 

It is wrong, however, to say that he was entirely idle. 
At Harrow he had formed an intimate friendship with a 
youth more ambitious than himself, the Nathaniel Halhed 
whom Dr. Parr chronicles as having " written well in Latin 
and Greek." With this young man Sheridan entered into 
a sort of literary partnership both in classical translation 
and dramatic composition. Their first attempt was a farce 
called Jupiter; the subject being the story of Ixion, in 
which, curiously enough, the after-treatment of the Critic 
is shadowed forth in various points, the little drama being 
in the form of a rehearsal before a tribunal not unlike that 
to which Mr. Puff submits his immortal tragedy. Simile, 
the supposed author, indeed, says one or two things which 
are scarcely unworthy of Puff. The following passage oc- 
curs in a scene in which he is explaining to his critics the 
new fashion of composition, how the music is made first, 
and " the sense " afterwards (a process no ways astonish- 



i.] HIS YOUTH. 15 

ing to the present generation), and how " a complete set 
of scenes from Italy" is the first framework of the play 
which " some ingenious hand " writes up to. " By this 
method," says one of the wondering commentators, " you 
must often commit blunders?" 

" Simile. Blunders ! to be sure I must, but I always could get 
myself out of them again. Why, I'll tell you an instance of it. 
You must know I was once a journeyman sonnet-writer to Signer 
Squaltini. Now, his method, when seized with the furor harmonicas, 
was constantly to make me sit by his side, while he was thrumming 
on his harpsichord, in order to make extempore verses to whatever 
air he should beat out to his liking. I remember one morning as he 
was in this situation thrum, thrum, thrum (moving his fingers aa 
if beating on the harpsichord) striking out something prodigiously 
great, as he thought Hah !' said he ; ' hah ! Mr. Simile thrum, 
thrum, thrum by gar, him is vary fine write me some words di- 
rectly.' I durst not interrupt him to ask on what subject, so in- 
stantly began to describe a fine morning 

Calm was the land and calm the skies, 
And calm the heaven's dome serene, 

Hush'd was the gale and hush'd the breeze, 
And not a vapour to be seen. 

" I sang it to his notes. ' Hah ! upon my word, vary pritt thrum, 
thrum, thrum. Stay, stay ! Now, upon my word, here it must be an 
adagio. Thrum, thrum, thrum. Oh ! let it be an Ode to Melancholy.' 

"Monop. The devil ! then you were puzzled sure 

"Sim. Not in the least! I brought in a cloud in the next stanza, 
and matters, you see, came about at once. 

" Afonop. An excellent transition. 

" O'CW. Vastly ingenious, indeed. 

"Sim. Was it not, very? It required a little command a little 
presence of mind." 

When the rehearsal begins the resemblance is still more 
perfect, though there is no reproduction either of the plot 
or characters introduced. We are not told how much 



16 RICHARD BRLNSLEY SHERIDAN. [CHAP. 

share Halhed had in the composition : it was he who fur- 
nished the skeleton of the play, but it is scarcely possible 
that such a scene as the above could be from any hand but 
Sheridan's. This youthful effort was never finished. It 
was to have brought in a sum of money, which they both 
wanted much, to the young authors: "The thoughts," 
Halhed says, " of 200 shared between us are enough to 
bring the water into one's eyes." Halhed, then at Ox- 
ford, wanted the money above all things to enable him to 
pay a visit to Bath, where lived the young lady whom all 
these young men adored; and young Sheridan, who can 
doubt, required it for a thousand uses. But they were 
both at an age when a great part of pleasure lies in the 
planning, and when the mind is easily diverted to another 
and another new beginning. A publication of the Tatler 
type was the next project, to be called (one does not know 
why) ffernan's Miscellany; but this never went further than 
a part composition of the first number, which is somewhat 
feeble and flippant, as the monologue of an essayist of that 
old-fashioned type, if not under any special inspiration, is 
apt to be. Finally the young men succeeded in producing 
a volnme of so-called translations from a dubious Latin au- 
thor called Aristaenetus, of whom no one knows much, and 
on whom at least it was very easy for them to father the 
light and frothy verses, which no one was likely to seek 
for in the original if an original existed. Their preface 
favours the idea that the whole business was a literary 
hoax by which they did not even expect their readers to 
be taken in. Aristcenetus got itself published, the age be- 
ing fond of classics rubbed down into modern verse, but 
does not seem to have done any more. The two young 
men were in hopes that Sumner, their old master, " and 
the wise few of their acquaintance," would talk about the 



i.J HLS YOUTH. 17 

book, and perhaps discover the joint authorship, and help 
them to fame and profit. But these hopes were not re- 
alised, as indeed they did not in the least deserve to be. 
They were flattered by being told that Johnson was sup- 
posed to be the author, which must have been a friendly 
invention ; and Halhed tried to believe that " everybody 
had read the book," and that the second part, vaguely 
promised in the preface on condition of the success of the 
first, " should be published immediately, being of opinion 
that the readers of the first volume would be sure to pur- 
chase the second, and that the publication of the second 
would put it into the heads of others to buy the first" 
a truly business-like argument, which, however, did not 
convince the booksellers. It seems a pity to burden the 
collection of Sheridan's works now with these unprofitable 
verses, which were never acknowledged, and did not even 
procure for young Halhed, who wanted it so much, the 
happiness of a visit to Bath, or a sight of the object of his 
boyish adoration. 

It is the presence of this lady which gives interest and 
romance to the early chapter of Sheridan's life, and the 
record cannot go further without bringing her in. There 
flourished at Bath in those days a family called by Dr. 
Burney, in his History of Music, a nest of nightingales 
the family of Linley, the composer, who had been for 
years at the head of musical enterprise in the district, the 
favourite singing - master, the conductor of all the con- 
certs, a man whom Bath delighted to honour, and whose 
fame spread over England by means of the beau monde 
which took the waters in that city of pleasure. The posi- 
tion that such a man takes in a provincial town has be- 
come once more so much like what it was in the latter 
half of last century, when Handel was at Windsor and 
2 



18 RICHARD BRIXSLEY SHERIDAN. [CHAP. 

England in one of its musical periods, that it will be 
easily realised by the reader. The brevet rank, revocable 
at the pleasure of society, which the musical family ob- 
tains, its admission among all the fine people, the price it 
has to pay for its elevation, and the vain hope that it is 
prized for its own personal qualities, which flatters it while 
in its prime of attraction the apparent equality, nay, al- 
most superiority, of the triumphant musicians among their 
patrons, who yet never forget the real difference between 
them, and whose homage is often little more than a form 
of insult give a dramatic interest to the group such as 
few possess. This was the position held by the Linleys 
among the fine people of Bath. There were beautiful 
girls in the musician's house, which was always open, hos- 
pitable, and bright, and where a perpetual flutter of admi- 
ration and compliments, half affectionate, half humorous, 
the enthusiasm of a coterie, was in the ears of the young 
creatures in all their early essays in art. Men of wealth 
and sometimes of rank, the gentlemen of the neighbour- 
hood, the officers and the wits all friends of Linley, and 
glad to invite him to club and coffee-house and mess-room 
were always about to furnish escorts and a flattering 
train wherever the young singers went. The eldest daugh- 
ter, Elizabeth or Eliza, as it was the fashion of the time 
to shorten and vulgarise that beautiful name was a lovely 
girl of sixteen when the young Sheridans became known 
about Bath. Her voice was as lovely as her face, and she 
was the prima donna of her father's concerts, going with 
him to sing at festivals in other cathedral towns, and often 
to Oxford, where she had turned the head of young Halhed 
and of many an undergraduate besides. In Bath the young 
men were all at her feet, and not only the young men, as 
was natural, but the elder and less innocent members of 



i.] HIS YOUTH. 19 

society. That the musician and his wife might have en- 
tertained hopes or even allowed themselves to be betrayed 
into not entirely unjustifiable schemings to marry their 
beautiful child to somebody who would raise her into a 
higher sphere, may well be believed. One such plan, in- 
deed, it is evident did exist, which the poor girl herself 
foiled by making an artless confession to the man whom 
her parents had determined she should marry " Mr. Long, 
an old gentleman of considerable fortune," who had the 
magnanimity to take upon himself the burden of breaking 
the engagement, and closed the indignant father's mouth 
by settling a little fortune of 3000 upon the young lady. 
A danger escaped in this way, however, points to many 
other pitfalls among which her young feet had to tread, 
and one at least of a far more alarming kind has secured 
for itself a lasting place in her future husband's history. 
There is a curious letter 1 extant, which is printed in all 
Sheridan's biographies, and in which Eliza gives an ac- 
count to a dear friend and confidant of the toils woven 
around her by one of her father's visitors, a certain Cap- 
tain Matthews, who, though a married man and much 
older than herself, had beguiled the simple girl into a pro- 
longed and clandestine sentimental correspondence. The 
sophisticated reader, glancing at this quaint production, 
without thought of the circumstances or the person, would 
probably conclude that there was harm in it, which it is 
very certain from all that is said and done besides did not 
exist; but the girl in her innocence evidently felt that the 
stolen intercourse, the whisperings aside, the man's prot- 

1 Mrs. Norton, in a preliminary sketch to an intended history of 
the Sheridans, never written, denies the authenticity of this letter 
with a somewhat ill-directed family pride; but no doubt has been 
thrown upon it by any of Sheridan's biographers. 



20 RICHARD BRIXSLEY SHERIDAN. [CHAP. 

estations of fondness, and despair if she withdrew from 
him, and her own half-flattered, half-frightened attraction 
towards him, were positive guilt. The letter, indeed, is 
Lydia Languish from beginning to end the Lydia Lan- 
guish of real life without any genius to trim her utterance 
into just as much as is needful and characteristic and in 
consequence is somewhat tedious, long-winded, and con- 
fused ; but her style, something between Clarissa Harlowe 
and Julia Mannering, is quite appropriate at once to the 
revelation and the period. The affair to which her letter 
refers has occupied far too much space, we think, in the 
story of Sheridan's life, yet it is a curious exposition of 
the time, the class, and the locality. The Maid of Bath, 
as she was called, had many adorers. Young Halhed, 
young Charles Sheridan neither of them with much to 
offer followed her steps wherever she moved, and ap- 
plauded to the echo every note she sang, as did many an- 
other adorer; while within the busy and full house the 
middle-aged visitor, her father's so-called friend, had a hun- 
dred opportunities for a whispered word, a stolen caress, 
half permissible for the sake of old friendship, and because, 
no doubt, he had known her from a child. But even at 
sixteen the eyes of a girl accustomed to so many tributes 
would soon be opened, and the poor Lydia became alarmed 
by the warmth of her half-paternal lover and by the secrecy 
of his communications. This was her position at the time 
the Sheridans appear upon the scene. 

The new influence immediately began to tell. Miss 
Linley and Miss Sheridan became devoted friends and 
the two brothers " on our first acquaintance both pro- 
fessed to love me." She gave them no hope "that I. 
should ever look upon them in any other light than as 
brothers of my friend," but yet " preferred the youngest," 



i.] HIS YOUTH. 21 

as " by far the most agreeable in person, beloved by every 
one, and greatly respected by all the better sort of people." 
Richard Sheridan, it would seem, immediately assumed the 
position of the young lady's secret guardian. He made 
friends with Matthews, became even intimate with him, and 
thus discovered the villanous designs which he entertained ; 
while, on the other hand, he obtained the confidence of the 
lady, and became her chief adviser. It was a curious posi- 
tion for a young man but he was very young, very poor, 
without any prospects that could justify him in entering 
the lists on his own account ; and while he probably suc- 
ceeded in convincing Miss Linley that his love for her was 
subdued into friendship, he seems to have been able to 
keep his secret from all his competitors, and not to have 
been suspected by any of them. In the heat of the perse- 
cution by Matthews, who resisted all her attempts to shake 
off his society, frightening her by such old-fashioned ex- 
pedients as threatening his own life, and declaring that he 
could not live without seeing her, incessant consultations 
were necessary with the young champion who knew the 
secret, and whose advice and countenance were continually 
appealed to. No doubt they met daily in the ordinary 
course at each other's houses ; but romance made it desir- 
able that they should find a secret spot where Eliza could 
confide her troubles to Richard, and he warn her and en- 
courage her in her resistance. " A grotto in Sydney Gar- 
dens " is reported to have been the scene of these meet- 
ings. On one occasion the anxious adviser must have 
urged his warnings too far, or insisted too warmly upon 
the danger of her position, for she left him angrily, resent- 
ing his interference ; and this was the occasion of the 
verses addressed to Delia which he left upon the seat of 
the grotto for her, with an apparently well-justified but 



22 RICHARD BRIXSLEY SHERIDAN. [CHAP. 

somewhat rash confidence that they would fall into no 
other hands. In this, after celebrating the " moss-covered 
grotto of stone " and the dew-dripping willow that over- 
shadows it, he unfolds the situation as follows : 

" This is the grotto where Delia reclined, 

As late I in secret her confidence sought ; 
And this is the tree kept her safe from the wind, 
As, blushing, she heard the grave lesson I taught. 

" Then tell me, thou grotto of moss-covered stone ; 

And tell me, thou willow with leaves dripping dew, 
Did Delia seem vexed when Horatio was gone, 
And did she confess her resentment to you ? 

" Methinks now each bough as you're waving it tries 

To whisper a cause for the sorrow I feel, 
To hint how she frowned when I dared to advise, 
And sigh'd when she saw that I did it with zeaL 

41 True, true, silly leaves, so she did, I allow ; 

She frowned, but no rage in her looks did I see ; 
She frowned, but reflection had clouded her brow ; 
She sigh'd, but perhaps 'twas in pity for me. 
****** 
41 For well did she know that my heart meant no wrong- 
It sank at the thought but of giving her pain ; 
But trusted its task to a faltering tongue, 

Which err'd from the feelings it could not explain, 

41 Yet oh ! if indeed I've offended the maid, 

If Delia my humble monition refuse, 
Sweet willow, the next time she visits thy shade, 
Fan gently her bosom, and plead its excuse. 

44 And thou, stony grot, in thy arch may'st preserve 

Two lingering drops of the night-fallen dew; 
And just let them fall at her feet, and they'll serve 
As tears of my sorrow intrusted to you." 



I.] HIS YOUTH. 23 

This is not very fine poetry ; but it is very instructive 
as to the curious complication of affairs. It would not 
have suited Captain Absolute to play such a part; but 
Lydia Languish, amid all the real seriousness of the di- 
lemma, no doubt would have derived a certain comfort 
from the romantic circumstances altogether the villain, 
on one hand, threatening to lay his death at her door; 
the modest, self-suppressed adorer, on the other, devoting 
himself to her service; the long, confidential conferences 
in the dark and damp little shelter behind the willow ; the 
verses left on the seat nothing could have been more de- 
lightful to a romantic imagination. 

But the excitement heightened as time went on ; and 
the poor girl was so harassed and persecuted by the man 
whose suit was a scandal, that she tried at last, she tells us, 
to take poison, as the only way of escape for her, searching 
for and finding in Miss Sheridan's room a small phial of 
laudanum, which had been used for an aching tooth, and 
which was too small apparently to do any harm. After 
this tremendous evidence of her miserable state, Sheridan, 
who would seem to have confined himself hitherto to 
warnings and hints, now disclosed the full turpitude of 
Matthews's intentions, and showed her a letter in which 
the villain announced that he had determined to proceed 
to strong measures, and if he could not overcome her by 
pleadings meant to carry her off by force. " The moment 
I read this horrid letter I fainted, and it was some time 
before I could recover my senses sufficiently to thank Mr. 
Sheridan for opening my eyes." But the question now 
was, what was to be done? For the poor girl seems to 
have had no confidence in her father's power of protect- 
ing her, and probably knew the inexpediency of embroil- 
ing him with his patrons. The two young creatures laid 



24 RICHARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAN. [CHAP. 

their foolish heads together in this crisis of fate the girl 
thoroughly frightened, the youth full of chivalrous deter- 
mination to protect her, and doubtless not without a hot- 
headed young lover's hope to turn it to his own advan- 
tage. He proposed that she should fly to France, and 
there take refuge in a convent till the danger should be 
over. His own family had left France only a few years 
before, and the sister, who was Eliza's friend, would 
recommend her to the kind nuns at St. Quentin, where 
she had herself been brought up. "He would go with 
me to protect me, and after he had seen me settled he 
would return to England and place my conduct in such 
a light that the world would applaud and not condemn 
me." 

Such was the wonderful expedient by which the diffi- 
culties of this terrible crisis were surmounted. Her mother 
was ill and the house in great disorder, and under cover 
of the accidental commotion young Sheridan handed the 
agitated girl into a chair his sister, who was in the secret, 
and, no doubt, in high excitement too, coming secretly to 
help her to pack up her clothes; and that night they 
posted off to London. " Sheridan had engaged the wife 
of one of his servants to go with me as a maid without 
my knowledge. You may imagine how pleased I was 
with his delicate behaviour." This last particular reaches 
the very heights of chivalry, for, no doubt, it must have 
been quite a different matter to the impassioned boy to 
conduct the flight with a commonplace matron seated in 
his post-chaise between him and his beautiful Delia, instead 
of the tete-a-tete which he might so easily have secured. 
Next day they crossed the Channel to the little sandy 
port of Dunkirk and were safe. 

And it would seem that the rash young lover was very 



i.] HIS YOUTH. 25 

honest and really meant to carry out this mad project; 
for she did eventually reach her convent, whither he at- 
tended her with punctilious respect. But when they were 
fairly launched upon their adventurous career either com- 
mon sense or discreet acquaintances soon made it apparent 
to the young man that a youth and a maiden, however 
virtuous, cannot rove about the world in this way without 
comment, and that there was but one thing to be done in 
the circumstances. Perhaps Miss Linley had begun to feel 
something more than the mere " preference for the young- 
est," which she had so calmly announced, or perhaps it 
was only the desperate nature of the circumstances that 
made her yield. But, however that may be, the two fugi- 
tives went through the ceremony of marriage at Calais, 
though they seem to have separated immediately after- 
wards, carrying out the high sentimental and Platonic ro- 
mance to the end. 

It is a curious commentary, however, upon the prodi- 
gality of the penniless class to which Sheridan belonged 
that he could manage to start off suddenly upon this jour- 
ney out of Thomas Sheridan's shifty household, where 
money was never abundant, a boy of twenty, with nothing 
of his own hurrying up to London with post-horses, and 
hiring magnificently " the wife of one of his servants " to 
attend upon his love. The words suggest a retinue of 
retainers, and the journey itself would have taxed the re- 
sources of a youth much better endowed than Sheridan. 
Did he borrow, or run chivalrously into debt ? or how did 
he manage it? His sister "assisted them with money out 
of her little fund for household expenses," but that would 
not go far. Perhaps the friend in London (a " respectable 
brandy-merchant") to whom he introduced Miss Linley 
as an heiress who had eloped with him, may have helped 
C 2* 28 



26 RICHARD BRINSLET SHERIDAN. [CHAP. 

on such a warrant to furnish the funds. But there is noth- 
ing more remarkable than the ease with which these im- 
pecunious gallants procure post-chaises, servants, and lux- 
uries in those dashing days. The young men think noth- 
ing of a headlong journey from Bath to London and back 
again, which, notwithstanding all our increased facilities 
of locomotion, penniless youths of to-day would hesitate 
about. To be sure, it is possible that credit was to be had 
at the livery-stables, whereas, fortunately, none is possible 
at the railway-station. Post-horses seem to have been an 
affair of every day to the heroes of the Crescent and the 
Parade. 

Meanwhile everything was left in commotion at home. 
Charles Sheridan, the elder brother, had left Bath and 
gone to the country in such dejection, after Miss Linley's 
final refusal of his addresses, as became a sentimental lover. 
When Richard went off triumphant with the lady his sis- 
ters were left alone, in great excitement and agitation ; and 
their landlord, thinking the girls required "protection," 
according to the language of the time, set out at break of 
day to bring back the rejected from his retirement. The 
feelings of Charles on finding that his younger brother, 
whom even the girls did not know to be a lover of Miss 
Linley, had carried off the prize, may be imagined. 
But the occasion of the elopement, the designing villain 
of the piece the profligate whose pursuit had driven the 
lady to despair was furious. Miss Linley had, no doubt, 
left some explanation of the extraordinary step she was 
taking with her parents, and Sheridan appears to have 
taken the same precaution and disclosed the reasons which 
prompted her flight. "When Matthews heard of this he 
published the following advertisement in a Bath news- 
paper : 



i.] HIS YOUTH. 27 

" Mr. Richard g******* having attempted, in a letter left be- 
hind him for that purpose, to account for his scandalous method of 
running away from this place by insinuations derogatory to my char- 
acter and that of a young lady innocent so far as relates to me or my 
knowledge ; since which he has neither taken any notice of letters, 
or even informed his own family of the place where he has hid him- 
self : I can no longer think he deserves the treatment of a gentle- 
man, and therefore shall trouble myself no further about him than, 

In this public method, to post him as a L * * * and a treacherous 
g******** 

" And as I am convinced there have been many malevolent incen- 
diaries concerned in the propagation of this infamous lie, if any of 
them, unprotected by age, infirmities, or profession, will dare to ac- 
knowledge the part they have acted, and affirm to what they have 
Baid of me, they may depend on receiving the proper reward of their 
villainy in the most public manner." 

This fire-eating paragraph was signed with the writer's 
name, and it may be imagined what a delightful commo- 
tion it made in such a metropolis of scandal and leisure, 
and with what excitement all the frequenters of the Pump- 
room and the assemblies looked for the next incident. 
Some weeks elapsed before they were satisfied, but the fol- 
lowing event was striking enough to content the most sen- 
sational imagination. It would seem to have been April 
before a clue was found to the fugitives, and Linley started 
at once from Bath to recover his daughter. He found her, 
to his great relief, doubtless, in the house of an English 
doctor in Lisle, who had brought her there from her con- 
vent, and placed her under his wife's care to be nursed 
when she was ill. Everything, it was evident, had been 
done in honour, and the musician seems to have been so 
thankful to find things no worse that he took the young 
people's explanations in good part. He would even seem 
to have made some sort of conditional promise that she 
should no longer be compelled to perform in public after 



28 RICHARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAN. [CHAP. 

she had fulfilled existing engagements, and so brought her 
back peacefully to Bath. Richard, who in the mean time, 
in his letters home, had spoken of his bride as Miss L., 
announcing her settlement in her convent, without the 
slightest intimation of any claim on his part upon her, 
seems to have returned with them ; but no one, not even 
Miss Linley's father, was informed of the Calais marriage, 
which seems, in all good faith, to have been a form gone 
through in case any scandal should be raised, but at pres- 
ent meaning nothing more. And Bath, with all its scan- 
dal-mongers, at a period when the general imagination 
was far from delicate, seems to have accepted the esca- 
pade with a confidence in both the young people, and 
entire belief in their honour, which makes us think better 
both of the age and the town. We doubt whether such 
faith would be shown in the hero and heroine of a simi- 
lar freak in our own day. Young Sheridan, however, 
came home to no peaceable reception. He had to meet 
his indignant brother, in the first place, and to settle the 
question raised by the insulting advertisement of Mat- 
thews, which naturally set his youthful blood boiling. 
Before his return to Bath he had seen this villain in 
London, who had the audacity to disclaim the advertise- 
ment and attribute it to Charles Sheridan a suggestion 
which naturally brought the young man home furious. 
The trembling sisters, delighted to welcome Richard, and 
eager to know all about his adventure, had their natural 
sentiments checked by the gloomy looks with which the 
brothers met, and went to bed reluctantly that first even- 
ing, hearing the young men's voices high and angry, and 
anticipating with horror a quarrel between them. Next 
morning neither of them appeared. They had gone off 
again with those so-easily-obtained post-horses to London. 



L] HIS YOUTH. 29 

A terrible time of waiting ensued ; the distracted girls ran 
to the Linleys, but found no information there. They ex- 
pected nothing better than to hear of a duel between their 
brothers for the too-charming Eliza's sake. 

Hitherto all has been the genteelest of comedy, in 
fine eighteenth -century style: the villain intriguing, the 
ardent young lover stealing the lady out of his clutches, 
and Lydia Languish herself not without a certain delight 
in the romance, notwithstanding all her flutterings: the 
post-chaise dashing through the night, the alarms of the 
voyage, the curious innocent delusion of the marriage, 
complaisant priest and homely confidant, and guardian- 
bridegroom, with a soul above every ungenerous advan- 
tage. But the following act is wildly sensational. The 
account of the brawl that follows is given at length by 
all Sheridan's biographers. It is scarcely necessary to say 
that when the brothers, angry as both were, had mutually 
explained themselves, it was not to lift unnatural hands 
against each other that they sallied forth, while the girls 
lay listening and trembling up-stairs, but to jump once 
more into a post-chaise, and rattle over the long levels 
of the Bath road to town through the dewy chill of a 
May night, which did nothing, however, towards cooling 
their hot blood. Before leaving Bath, Richard had flashed 
forth a letter to the Master of the Ceremonies, informing 
him that Matthews's conduct had been such that no verbal 
apology could now be accepted from him. The first step 
the hero took on arriving in London was to challenge the 
villain, who, indeed, would seem to have behaved as in- 
famously as the most boldly-drawn villain on the stage 
could be represented as doing. And then comes a most 
curious scene. The gentlemen with their rapiers go out 
to the Park, walking out together about six in the even- 



30 RICHARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAN. [ciur. 

ing apparently a time when the Park was almost empty ; 
but on various pretences the offender declines to fight 
there, with an air of endeavouring to slip out of the risk 
altogether. After several attempts to persuade him to 
stand and draw, the party, growing more and more ex- 
cited, at length go to a coffee-house, " The Castle Tavern, 
Henrietta Street" having first called at two or three 
other places, where their heated looks would seem to have 
roused suspicion. Their march through the streets in 
the summer evening on this strange errand, each with his 
second, the very sword quivering at young Richard's side 
and the blood boiling in his veins, among all the peaceful 
group streaming away from the Park, is wonderful to 
think of. When they got admittance at last to a private 
room in the tavern the following scene occurs : 

" Mr. Ewart [the second of Sheridan] took lights up in his hand, 
and almost immediately on our entering the room we engaged. I 
struck Mr. Matthews's point so much out of the line that I stepped 
up and caught hold of his wrist, or the hilt of his sword, while the 
point of mine was at his breast. Tou [the letter is addresssed to 
the second on the other side] ran in and caught hold of my arm, ex- 
claiming, ' Don't kill him !' I struggled to disengage my arm, and 
said his sword was in my power. Mr. Matthews called out twice or 
thrice, ' I beg my life.' You immediately said ' There ! he has begged 
his life, and now there is an end of it ;' and on Mr. Ewart's saying 
that when his sword was in my power, as I attempted no more, you 
should not have interfered, you replied that you were wrong, but that 
you had done it hastily and to prevent mischief or words to that 
effect. Mr. Matthews then hinted that I was rather obliged to your 
interposition for the advantage : you declared that before you did so 
both the swords were in Mr. Sheridan's power. Mr. Matthews still 
seemed resolved to give it another turn, and observed that he had 
never quitted his sword. Provoked at this, I then swore (with too 
much heat, perhaps) that he should either give up his sword and I 
would break it, or go to his guard again. He refused but on my 



i.] HIS YOUTH. 31 

persisting either gave it into my hand, or flung it on the table or the 
ground (which, I will not absolutely affirm). I broke it and flung 
the hilt to the other end of the room. He exclaimed at this. I 
took a mourning sword from Mr. Ewart, and, presenting him with 
mine, gave my honour that what had passed should never be men- 
tioned by me, and he might now right himself again. He replied 
that he ' would never draw a sword against the man that had given 
him his life ;' but on his still exclaiming against the indignity of 
breaking his sword (which he brought upon himself), Mr. Ewart 
offered him the pistols, and some altercation passed between them. 
Mr. Matthews said that he could never show his face if it were known 
that his sword was broke that such a thing had never been done 
that it cancelled all obligations, etc. You seemed to think it was 
wrong, and we both proposed that if he never misrepresented the 
affair it should not be mentioned by us. This was settled. I then 
asked Mr. Matthews, as he had expressed himself sensible of and 
shocked at the in justice and indignity he had done me by his ad- 
vertisement, whether it did not occur to him that he owed me an- 
other satisfaction ; and that as it was now in his power to do it with- 
out discredit, I supposed he would not hesitate. This he absolutely 
refused, unless conditionally. I insisted on it, and said I would not 
leave the room till it was settled. After much altercation, and with 
much ill grace, he gave the apology." 

There could not be a more curious scene. The out- 
door duel is familiar enough both to fact and fiction ; but 
the flash of the crossing swords, the sudden rush, the al- 
tercations of the angry group, the sullen submission of 
the disarmed bully, going on by the light of the flaring 
candles, in an inn-parlour, while the ordinary bustle of 
the tavern proceeded peacefully below, is as strange a 
picture as we can remember. Sheridan's account of the 
circumstances was made in answer to another, which 
stated them, as he asserts, falsely. The brothers re- 
turned home on Tuesday morning (they had left Bath 
on Saturday night), " much fatigued, not having been in 
bed since they left home," with Matthews's apology, and 



82 RICHARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAN. [CHAP. 

triumph in their hearts, to the great consolation and re- 
lief of the anxious girls. But their triumph was not to 
be so easy. The circumstances of the duel oozed out, as 
most things do, and Matthews, stung by shame, challenged 
Sheridan again, choosing pistols as the weapons, prior to 
swords, "from a conviction that Mr. Sheridan would run 
in on him and an ungentlemanly scuffle probably be the 
consequence." This presentiment very evidently was jus- 
tified ; for the pistols were not used, and the duel ended 
in a violent scuffle not like the usual dignified calm 
which characterises such deadly meetings. Matthews 
broke his sword upon Sheridan's ribs. The two antag- 
onists fell together, Sheridan, wounded and bleeding, un- 
derneath, while the elder and heavier man punched at 
him with his broken sword. They were separated at 
length by the seconds, Sheridan refusing to "beg his 
life." He was carried home very seriously wounded, and, 
as was believed, in great danger. Miss Linley was sing- 
ing at Oxford at the time, and while there Sheridan's 
wounded condition and the incident altogether was con- 
cealed from her, though everybody else knew of it and of 
her connection with it. When it was at last communi- 
cated to her she almost betrayed their secret, which even 
now nobody suspected, by a cry of " My husband ! my 
husband !" which startled all who were present, but was 
set down to her excitement and distress, and presently 
forgotten. 

This tremendous encounter closed the episode. Mat- 
thew had vindicated his courage and obliterated the stig- 
ma of the broken sword ; and though there was at one 
moment a chance of a third duel, thenceforward we hear 
little more of him. Sheridan recovered slowly under the 
care of his sisters, his father and brother being again ab- 



I.] HIS YOUTH. 33 

sent, and not very friendly. " We neither of us could 
approve of the cause in which you suffer," Charles writes. 
" All your friends here [in London] condemn you." The 
brother, however, has the grace to add that he is "unhap- 
py at the situation I leave you in with respect to money 
matters," and that " Ewart was greatly vexed at the man- 
ner of your drawing for the last twenty pounds ;" so that 
it seems the respectable brandy - merchant had been the 
family stand-by. The poor young fellow's position was 
miserable enough badly wounded, without a shilling, his 
love seduously kept away from him, and the bond between 
them so strenuously ignored, that he promised his father, 
with somewhat guilty disingenuousness, that he never 
would marry Miss Linley. Life was altogether at a low 
ebb with him. When he got better he was sent into the 
country, to Waltham Abbey, no doubt by way of weaning 
him from all the seductions of Bath, and the vicinity of 
the lovely young singer, who had resumed her profession, 
though she hated it, and was to be seen of all men except 
the faithful lover who was her husband, though nobody 
knew. 

Before we conclude this chapter of young life, which 
reads so like an argument to the Rivals or some similar 
play, we may indicate some of Sheridan's early productions 
which, common as the pretty art of verse-making was, 
showed something more than the facile knack of compo- 
sition, which is one of what were entitled in that day " the 
elegant qualifications " of golden youth. Sacred to Eliza 
Linley, as well as the verses about "the moss-covered 
grotto," was the following graceful snatch of song, which 
is pretty enough to be got by heart and sung by love-sick 
youths in many generations to some pretty, rococo air as 
fantastic as itself : 



34 RICHARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAN. [CHAP. 

" Dry be that tear, my gentlest lore, 
Be hush'd that struggling sigh ; 
Nor seasons, day, nor fate shall prove 

More fix'd, more true than I. 
Hush'd be that sigh, be dry that tear ; 
Cease boding doubt, cease anxious fear ; 
Dry be that tear. 

" Ask'st thou how long my love will stay, 

When all that's new is past ? 

How long, ah ! Delia, can I say 

How long my life will last ? 

Dry be that tear, be hush'd that sigh. 

At least I'll love thee till I die. 

Hush'd be that sigh. 

" And does that thought affect thee too, 

The thought of Sylvio's death, 
That he who only breath'd for you 

Must yield his faithful breath ? 
Hush'd be that sigh, be dry that tear, 
Nor let us lose our heaven here. 
Dry be that tear." 

Moore, with a pedantry which is sufficiently absurd, 
having just traced an expression in the "moss-covered 
grotto " to a classical authority, though with a doubt, very 
favourable to his own scholarship, " whether Sheridan was 
likely to have been a reader of Augurianus," finds a close 
resemblance in the above to " one of the madrigals of 
Montreuil," or perhaps to " an Italian song of Menage." 
Very likely it resembled all those pretty things, the rococo 
age being not yet over, and such elegant trifles still in 
fashion as, indeed, they will always be as long as youth 
and its sweet follies last. 

Other pretty bits of verse might be quoted, especially 
one which brings in another delightful literary association 



i.] HIS YOUTH. 35 

into the story. Lady Margaret Fordyce the beloved sis- 
ter at whose departure from the old home in Fife Lady 
Anne Lindsay was so dejected, that to console herself she 
sang the woes, more plaintive still than her own, of that 
immortal peasant lass who married Auld Robin Gray 
was then in Bath, and had been dismissed by a local versi- 
fier in his description of the beauties of the place by a 
couplet about a dimple, which roused young Sheridan's 
wrath. " Could you," he cries, addressing the poetaster 

" Could you really discover, 
In gazing those sweet beauties over, 
No other charm, no winning grace, 
Adorning either mind or face, 
But one poor dimple to express 
The quintessence of loveliness ? 

" Mark'd you her cheek of rosy hue ? 
Mark'd you her eye of sparkling blue ? 
That eye in liquid circles moving, 
That cheek abash'd at man's approving ; 
The one Love's arrows darting round, 
The other blushing at the wound ; 
Did she not speak, did she not move, 
Now Pallas now the Queen of Love ?" 

The latter lines are often quoted, but it is pretty to 
know that it was of Lady Anne's Margaret that they were 
said. 

It is probably also to his period of seclusion and leisure 
at Waltham that the early dramatic attempts found by 
Moore among the papers confided to him belong. One 
of these runs to the length of three acts, and is a work of 
the most fantastic description, embodying, so far as it goes, 
the life of a band of outlaws calling themselves Devils, 



36 RICHARD BRISSLEY SHERIDAN. [CHAP. 

who have their head-quarters in a forest and keep the 
neighbourhood in alarm. The heroine, a mysterious and 
beautiful maiden, is secluded in a cave, from which she has 
never been allowed to go out, nor has she ever seen the 
face of man, except that of the old hermit, who is her 
guardian. She has been permitted, however, one glimpse 
of a certain young huntsman, whom she considers a phan- 
tom, until a second sight of him, when he is taken prisoner 
by the robbers, and unaccountably introduced into the 
cave where she lies asleep, convinces her of his reality, 
and naturally has the same effect upon her which the 
sudden apparition of Prince Ferdinand had upon Miranda. 
The scene is pretty enough as the work of a sentimental 
youth in an age addicted to the highflown everywhere, and 
especially on the stage. The hero, when unbound and left 
to himself, begins his soliloquy, as a matter of course, with 
a " Ha ! where am I ?" but changes his tone from despair 
to rapture when he sees the fair Reginilla whose acquaint- 
ance he had so mysteriously made. "Oh, would she but 
wake and bless this gloom with her bright eyes !" he says, 
after half a page. " Soft ; here's a lute : perhaps her soul 
will know the call of harmony." Mrs. Radcliffe's lovely 
heroines, at a still later period, carried their lutes about 
with them everywhere, and tuned them to the utterance of 
a favourite copy of verses in the most terrible circum- 
stances ; so that the discovery of so handy an instrument 
in a robber's cave occasioned no surprise to the young 
hero. The song he immediately sung has been, Moore 
confesses, manipulated by himself. " I have taken the lib- 
erty of supplying a few rhymes and words that are want- 
ing," he says, so that we need not quote it as an example 
of Sheridan. But the performance has its desired effect, 
and the lady wakes : 



.] HIS YOUTH. 87 

" Reg. (waking). The phantom, father ! (Seizes his hand.) Oh, do 
not do not wake me thus ! 

" Huntsman (kneeling). Thou beauteous sun of this dark world, 
that mak'st a place so like the cave of death a heaven to me, instruct 
me how I may approach thee how address thee and not offend. 

" Reg. Oh, how my soul could hang upon those lips ! Speak on I 
And yet methinks he should not kneel. Why are you afraid, sir? 
Indeed I cannot hurt you. 

" Hunts. Sweet innocence, I am sure thou would'st not. 

" Reg. Art thou not he to whom I told my name, and did'st thou 
not say thine was 

" Hunts. Oh! blessed was the name that then thou told'st it has 
been ever since my charm and kept me from distraction. But may 
I ask how such sweet excellence as thine could be hid in such a 
place ? 

" Reg. Alas ! I know not for such as thou I never saw before, 
nor any like myself. 

" Hunts. Nor like thee ever shall ; but would'st leave this place, 
and live with such as I am ? 

" Reg. Why may not you live here with such as I ? 

" Hunts. Yes, but I would carry thee where all above an azure 
canopy extends, at night bedropt with gems, and one more glorious 
lamp that yields such beautiful light as love enjoys; while under- 
neath a carpet shall be spread of flowers to court the presence of thy 
step, with such sweet-whispered invitations from the leaves of shady 
groves or murmuring of silver streams, that thou shalt think thou 
art in Paradise. 

"Rey. Indeed! 

" Hunts. Ay, and I'll watch and wait on thee all day, and cull the 
choicest flowers, which while thou bind'st in the mysterious knot of 
love, I'll tune for thee no vulgar lays, or tell thee tales shall make 
thee weep, yet please thee, while thus I press thy hand, and warm it 
thus with kisses. 

" Reg. I doubt thee not but then my Governor has told me many 
a tale of faithless men, who court a lady but to steal her peace. . . . 
Then, wherefore could'st thou not live here ? For I do feel, though 
tenfold darkness did surround this spot, I would be blest would you 
but stay here ; and if it make you sad to be imprisoned thus, I'd 
sing and play for thee, and dress thee sweetest fruits, and though 



88 RICHARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAN. [CHAP. 

you chide me would kiss thy tears away, and hide my blushing face 
upon thy bosom ; indeed I would. Then what avails the gaudy days, 
and all the evil things I'm told inhabit them, to those who have 
within themselves all that delight and love and heaven can give ? 

" Hunts. My angel, thou hast indeed the soul of love. 

" Reg. It is no ill thing, is it ? 

" Hunts. Oh, most divine it is the immediate gift of heaven " 

And then the lute is brought into requisition once more. 
Other scenes of a much less superfine description, in one 
of which the hero takes the semblance of a dancing bear, 
go on outside this sentimental retirement; and some hu- 
mour is expended on the trial of various prisoners secured 
by the robbers, who are made to believe that they have 
left this world and are being brought up before a kind of 
Pluto for judgment. This inflexible judge orders " baths 
of flaming sulphur and the caldron of boiling lead" for 
one who confesses himself to have been a courtier. The 
culprit's part, however, is taken by a compassionate devil, 
who begs that he may be soaked a little first in scalding 
brimstone, to prepare him for his final sentence. 

Another unfinished sketch called the Foresters deals with 
effects not quite so violent. To the end of life Sheridan 
would threaten smilingly to produce this play and outdo 
everything else with it, but the existing framework seems 
to have been of the very slightest. Probably to a much 
later period belongs the projected play upon the subject of 
Affectation, for which were intended many memorandums 
found written upon the paper books in which his thoughts 
were noted. The subject is one which, in the opinion of 
various critics, would have been specially adapted to Sheri- 
dan's powers, and Moore, and many others following him, 
express regret that it should have been abandoned. But 
no doubt Sheridan's instinct warned him that on no such 



i.] HIS YOUTH. 39 

set plan could his faculties work, and that the stage, how- 
ever adapted to the display of individual eccentricities, 
wants something more than a bundle of embodied fads to 
make its performances tell. Sir Bubble Bon, Sir Pere- 
grine Paradox, the representative " man who delights in 
hurry and interruption," the " man intriguing only for the 
reputation of it," the " lady who affects poetry," and all 
the rest, do well enough for the table-talk of the imagina- 
tion, or even to jot down and play with in a note-book ; 
but Sheridan was better inspired than to attempt to make 
them into a play. He had already among these memo- 
randums of his the first ideas of almost all his future pro- 
ductions, the primitive notes afterwards to be developed 
into the brilliant malice of the scandalmongers, the first 
conception of old Teazle, the earliest adumbration of the 
immortal Puff. But the little verses which we have al- 
ready quoted were the best of his actual achievements at 
this early period, dictated as they were by the early pas- 
sion which made the careless boy into a man. 

At least one other poetical address of a similar description 
stilted, yet not without a tender breath of pastoral sweet- 
ness was addressed to Eliza after she became Sheridan's 
wife, and told how Silvio reclined upon "Avon's ridgy 
bank" 

" Did mock the meadow's flowing pride, 

Rail'd at the dawn and sportive ring ; 
The tabour's call he did deride, 

And said, It was not Spring. 

" He scorned the sky of azure blue, 

He scorned whate'er could mirth bespeak ; 
He chid the beam that drank the dew, 

And chid the gale that fanned his glowing cheek. 
Unpaid the season's wonted lay, 
For still he sighed and said, It was not May." 



40 RICHARD BRIXSLEY SHERIDAN. [CHAP. 

Which is, of course, explained by the circumstance that 
Delia (for the nonce called Laura) was not there. Laura 
responded in verses not much worse. It was a pretty 
commerce, breathing full of the time when shepherds and 
shepherdesses were still the favourites of dainty poetry 
a fashion which seems in some danger of returning with 
the other quaintnesses of the time. But this was after 
the young pair were united; and in 1772, when he had 
recovered of his wounds, and was making what shift he 
could to occupy himself in the solitude of Waltham, study- 
ing a little for a variety, reading up the History of Eng- 
land and the works of Sir William Temple, by way of 
improving his mind, that blessed event seemed distant 
and unlikely enough. 

In the Lent of 1773 Miss Linley came to London, to 
sing in the oratorios, and it is said that young Sheridan 
resorted to the most romantic expedients to see her. He 
was near enough to " tread on the heels of perilous proba- 
bilities" a phrase which Moore quotes from one of his 
letters and is said to have come from Waltham to Lon- 
don, and to have disguised himself as a hackney coach- 
man, and driven her home from her performances on sev- 
eral occasions. The anonymous author of Sheridan and 
his Times asserts that on one of these occasions, by some 
accident, the lady was alone, and that this opportunity of 
communication led to a series of meetings, which at length 
convinced the parents that further resistance was hopeless. 
During all this time, it would appear, the marriage at Ca- 
lais was never referred to, and was thought nothing of, 
even by the parties most concerned. It was intended ap- 
parently as a safeguard to Delia's reputation should need 
occur, but as nothing more ; which says a great deal for 
the romantic generosity of so ardent a lover and so penni- 



L] HIS YOUTH. 41 

less a man. For Delia had her little fortune, besides all 
the other charms which spoke so much more eloquently 
to her Silvio's heart, and was indeed a liberal income in 
herself, to any one who would take advantage of it, with 
that lovely voice of hers. But the young man was roman- 
tically magnanimous and highflying in his sense of hon- 
our. He was indeed a very poor match a youth without 
a penny, even without a profession, and no visible means 
of living for the adored siren, about whom wealthy suit- 
ors were dangling by the dozen, no doubt exciting many 
anxious hopes in the breasts of her parents, if not in her 
own faithful bosom. But love conquered in the long run, 
as an honest and honourable sentiment, if it lasts and can 
wait, is pretty sure to do. In April, 1773, about a year 
from the time of their clandestine marriage at Calais, they 
were married in the eye of day, with all that was needful 
to make the union dignified and respectable ; and thus 
the bustling little romance, so full of incident, so entirely 
ready for the use of the drama, so like all the favourite 
stage-combinations of the time, came to an end. We do 
not hear very much of Airs. Sheridan afterwards ; indeed, 
except the letter to which we have referred, she does little 
to disclose her personality at any time, but there is some- 
thing engaging and attractive a sort of faint but sweet 
reflection raying out from her through all her life. The 
Lydia Languish of early days the sentimental and roman- 
tic heroine of so many persecutions and pursuits, of the 
midnight flight and secret marriage developed into one 
of those favourites of society, half -artist, half -fine -lady, 
whose exertions for the amusement of the world bring 
nothing to them but a half-fictitious position and danger- 
ous flatteries, without even the public singer's substantial 
reward a class embracing many charming and attractive 
D 3 29 



42 RICHARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAN. [CHAP. i. 

women, victims of their own gifts and graces. Mrs. Sher- 
idan was, however, at the same time at least, in all the 
early part of her career a devoted wife, and seems to 
have done her best for her brilliant husband, and formed 
no small item in his success as well as in his happiness as 
long as her existence lasted. It is said that she disliked 
the life of a singer, and it is certain that she acquiesced 
in his resolution to withdraw her from all public appear- 
ances; but even in that point it is very likely that there 
was some unconsidered sacrifice in her submission. " Hers 
was truly a voice as of the church choir," says a contem- 
porary quoted by Moore, "and she was always ready to 
sing without any pressing. She sang here a great deal, 
and to my infinite delight ; but what had a peculiar charm 
was, that she used to take my daughter, then a child, on 
her lap, and sing a number of childish songs with such a 
playfulness of manner and such a sweetness of look and 
voice as was quite enchanting." 



CHAPTER II. 

HIS FIRST DRAMATIC WORKS. 

MARRIED at last and happy, after so much experience of 
disappointment and hope deferred, Sheridan and his young 
wife took a cottage in the country, and retired there to 
enjoy their long-wished-for life together, and to consider 
an important, but it would seem not absolutely essential, 
point what they were to do for their living. Up to this 
point they have been so entirely the personages of a 
drama, that it is quite in order that they should retire to 
a rose-covered cottage, with nothing particular to live upon ; 
and that the young husband, though without any trade of 
his own by which he could earn a dinner, should magnifi- 
cently waive off all offers of employment for his wife, who 
had a trade and a profitable one. He was still but 
twenty-two and she nineteen, and he had hitherto managed 
to get all that was necessary, besides post-chaises and a 
considerable share of the luxuries of the time, as the lilies 
get their bravery, without toiling or spinning ; so that it 
is evident the young man confronted fate with very little 
alarm, and his proud attitude of family head and master 
of his own wife is in the highest degree edifying as well 
as amusing. We can scarcely help doubting greatly 
whether a prima donna even of nineteen would let herself 
be disposed of now by such an absolute authority. The 



44 RICHARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAN. [CHAP. 

tone of the letter in which he communicates to his father- 
in-law his lofty determination in this respect will show 
the young men of to-day the value of the privileges which 
they have, it is to be feared, partially resigned : 

" Yours of the 3d instant did not reach me till yesterday, by reason 
of its missing us at Morden. As to the principal point it treats of, 
I had given my answer some days ago to Mr. Isaac, of Worcester. 
He had enclosed a letter from Storace to my wife, in which he dwells 
much on the nature of the agreement you had made for her eight 
months ago, and adds that ' as this is no new application, but a re- 
quest that you (Mrs. S.) will fulfil a positive engagement, the breach 
of which would prove of fatal consequence to our meeting, I hope 
Mr. Sheridan will think his honour in some degree concerned in ful- 
filling it.' Mr. Storace, in order to enforce Mr. Isaac's argument, 
showed me his letter on the same subject to him, which begins with 
saying, ' We must have Mrs. Sheridan somehow or other if possible, 
the plain English of which is that if her husband is not willing to 
let her perform, we will persuade him that he acts dishonourably in 
preventing her from fulfilling a positive engagement.' This I con- 
ceive to be the very worst mode of application that could have been 
taken; as there really is not common-sense in the idea that my 
honour can be concerned in my wife's fulfilling an engagement 
which it is impossible she should ever have made. Nor (as I wrote 
to Mr. Isaac) can you who gave the promise, whatever it was, be in 
the least charged with the breach of it, as your daughter's marriage 
was an event which must always have been looked to by them as 
quite as natural a period to your rights over her as her death. And 
in my opinion it would have been just as reasonable to have applied 
to you to fulfil your engagement hi the latter case than in the former. 
As to the imprudence of declining this engagement, I do not think, 
even were we to suppose that my wife should ever on any occasion 
appear again in public, there would be the least at present. For in- 
stance, I have had a gentleman with me from Oxford (where they do 
not claim the least right as from an engagement) who has endeavoured 
to place the idea of my complimenting the University with Betsey's 
performance in the strongest light of advantage to me. This he said 
on my declining to let her perform on any agreement. He likewise 



ii.] HIS FIRST DRAMATIC WORKS. 46 

informed me that he had just left Lord North (the Chancellor), who, 
he assured me, would look upon it as the highest compliment, and 
had expressed himself so to him. Now, should it be a point of in- 
clination or convenience to me to break my resolution with regard to 
Betsey's performing, there surely would be more sense in obliging 
Lord North (and probably from his own application) than Lord 
Coventry and Mr. Isaac ; for were she to sing at Worcester, there 
would not be the least compliment in her performing at Oxford." 

The poor pretty wife, smiling passive in the background 
while ray young lord considers whether he will " compli- 
ment the University " with her performance, is a spectacle 
which ought to be impressive to the brides of the present 
day, who take another view of their position ; but there is 
a delightful humour in this turning of the tables upon the 
stern father who had so often snubbed young Sheridan, 
and who must have regarded, one would suppose, his pres- 
ent impotence and the sublime superiority of the new pro- 
prietor of Betsey with anything but pleasant feelings. 
Altogether the attitude of the group is very instructive in 
view of the changes of public opinion on this point. The 
most arbitrary husband nowadays would think it expedi- 
ent at least to associate his wife's name with his own in 
any such refusal ; but the proprietorship was undoubting 
in Sheridan's day. It will be remembered that Dr. John- 
son highly applauded the young gentleman's spirit and 
resolution in this point. 

However, though she had so soon become Betsey and 
his property, so far as business was concerned, the cottage 
at East Burnham, among the beech-trees and roses, still 
contained a tender pair of lovers ; and Silvio still addressed 
to Delia the sweetest compliments in verse. When he is 
absent he appeals to Hymen to find something for him. to 
do to make the hours pass when away from her : 



46 RICHARD BR1NSLEY SHERIDAN. [CHAP. 

" Alas ! thou hast no wings, oh, Time ; 
It was some thoughtless lover's rhyme, 
Who, writing in his Chloe's view, 
Paid her the compliment through you. 
For had he, if he truly lov'd, 
But once the pangs of absence prov'd, 
He'd cropt thy wings, and in their stead 
Have painted thee with heels of lead." 

Thus Betsey's chains were gilded ; and in all likelihood 
she was totally unconscious of them, never having been 
awakened to any right of womankind beyond that of 
being loved and flattered. The verse is not of very high 
quality, but the sentiment is charming, and entirely ap- 
propriate to the position : 

" For me who, when I'm happy, owe 
No thanks to Fortune that I'm so, 
Who long have learn'd to look at one 
Dear object, and at one alone, 
For all the joy and all the sorrow 
That gilds the day or threats the morrow. 
I never felt thy footsteps light 
But when sweet love did aid thy flight, 
And banished from his blest dominion, 
I car'd not for thy borrowed pinion. 

True, she is mine ; and since she's mine 
At trifles I should not repine ; 
But, oh ! the miser's real pleasure 
Is not in knowing he has treasure ; 
He must behold his golden store, 
And feel and count his riches o'er. 
Thus I, of one dear gem possest, 
And in that treasure only blest, 
There every day would seek delight, 
And clasp the casket every night." 

The condition of the young pair in any reasonable point 
f view at this beginning of their life was as little hopeful 



ii.] HIS FIRST DRAMATIC WORKS. 47 

as can be conceived. The three thousand pounds left to 
Miss Linley by Mr. Long was their sole fortune, if it still 
remained intact. The wife was rendered helpless by the 
husband's grand prohibition of her exertions, and he him- 
self had nothing to do, nor knew how to do anything ; for 
even to literature, that invariable refuge, he scarcely seems 
as yet to have turned his eyes with any serious intent. 
The manner in which they plunged into life, however, is 
characteristic. When winter made their Burnham cottage 
undesirable, and the time of honey-mooning was well over, 
they went to town to live with the composer Storace, 
where no doubt Betsey's talent was largely exercised, though 
not in public, and probably helped to make friends for the 
young pair; for we hear of them next year as paying vis- 
its, among other places, at the house of Canning ; and in 
the winter of 1774 they established themselves in Orchard 
Street, Portman Square, in a house of their own, furnished, 
an anonymous biographer says, " in the most costly style," 
at the expense of Linley, with perhaps some contribution 
from that inexhaustible three thousand pounds : 

" His house was open," says this historian, " for the reception of 
guests of quality attracted by his wit, the superior accomplishments 
of his wife, and the elegance of his entertainments. His dinners 
were upon the most expensive scale, his wines of the finest quality ; 
while Mrs. Sheridan's soirees were remarkable not more for their 
brilliance than the gay groups of the most beautiful, accomplished, 
and titled lady visitants of the Court of St. James. Mrs. Sheridan's 
routs were the great attraction of the season. A friend a warm 
and sincere friend remonstrating with Sheridan on the instability 
of his means of supporting such a costly establishment, he terselj 
replied, ' My dear friend, it is my means.' " 

Such a description will be taken for what it is worth, 
but there seems internal evidence that the anecdote with 



48 RICHARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAN. [CHAP. 

which it concludes might have been true. And certainly, 
for a young man beginning the arduous occupation of liv- 
ing on his wits, a pretty house and prettier wife and good 
music would form an excellent stock-in-trade ; and the new 
home itself being entirely beyond any visible means they 
had, every other prodigality would be comprehensible. 
By this time he had begun the composition of a play, and 
considered himself on the eve of publishing a book, which, 
he " thinks, will do me some credit," as he informs his 
father-in-law, but which has never been heard of from that 
time to this, so far as appears. Another piece of informa- 
tion contained in the letter in which this apocryphal work 
is announced shows for the first time a better prospect 
for the young adventurer. He adds, " There will be a 
comedy of mine in rehearsal at Covent Garden within a 
few days": 

" I have done it at Mr. Harris's (the manager's) own request : it ia 
now complete in his hands, and preparing for the stage. He and 
some of his friends also who have heard it assure me in the most 
flattering terms that there is not a doubt of its success. It will be 
very well played, and Harris tells me that the least shilling I shall get 
(if it succeeds) will be six hundred pounds. I shall make no secret 
of it towards the time of representation, that it may not lose any sup- 
port my friends can give it. I had not written a line of it two months 
ago, except a scene or two, which I believe you have seen in an odd 
act of a little farce." 

This was the Rivals, which was performed at Covent 
Garden, on the 17th of January, 1775 nearly three years 
after his marriage. How he existed in the meantime, and 
made friends and kept up his London house, is left to the 
imagination. Probably it was done upon that famous 
three thousand pounds, which appears, like the widow's 
cruse, to answer all demands. 



ii.] HIS FIRST DRAMATIC WORKS. 49 

The Rivals was not successful the first night, and the 
hopes of the young dramatist must have met with a terri- 
ble check ; but the substitution of one actor for another 
in the part of Sir Lucius O'Trigger, and such emendations 
as practical sense suggested as soon as it had been put on 
the stage, secured for it one continued triumph ever after. 
It is now more than a century since critical London watched 
the new comedy, and the hearts of the Linleys thrilled 
from London to Bath, and old Thomas Sheridan, still un- 
reconciled to his son, came, silent and sarcastic, to the 
theatre to see what the young good-for-nothing had made 
of it ; but the world has never changed its opinion. What a 
moment for Betsey in the house where she had everything 
that heart of woman could desire except the knowledge 
that all was honest and paid for a luxury which outdoes 
all the rest and for her husband, standing in the wings, 
watching his father's face, whom he dared not go and 
speak to, and knowing that his whole future hung in the 
balance, and that in case of success all his follies would be 
justified ! " But now there can be no doubt of its suc- 
cess," cries little Miss Linley fr.om Bath, in a flutter of 
excitement, " as it has certainly got through more difficul- 
ties than any comedy which has not met its doom the first 
night." The Linleys were convinced in their own minds 
that it was Mrs. Sheridan who had written " the much ad- 
mired epilogue." " How I long to read it !" cries the little 
sister. " What makes it more certain is that my father 
guessed it was yours the first time he saw it praised in the 
paper." There is no reason to suppose that the guess was 
true, but it is a pretty exhibition of family feeling. 

The Rivals to the ordinary spectator who, looking on 
with uncritical pleasure at the progress of that episode of 
mimic life, in which everybody's remarks, are full of such 



50 RICHARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAN. [CHAP. 

a quintessence of wit as only a very few remarkable per- 
sons are able to emulate in actual existence, accepts the 
piece for the sake of these and other qualities is so little 
like a transcript from any actual conditions of humanity 
that to consider it as studied from the life would be ab- 
surd, and we receive these creations of fancy as belonging 
to a world entirely apart from the real. But the reader 
who has accompanied Sheridan through the previous chap- 
ter of his history will be inclined, on the contrary, to feel 
that the young dramatist has but selected a few incidents 
from the still more curious comedy of life in which he 
himself had so recently been one of the actors, and in 
which elopements, duels, secret correspondences, and all 
the rest of the simple-artificial round, were the order of 
the day. Whether he drew his characters from the life it 
is needless to inquire, or if there was an actual prototype 
for Mrs. Malaprop. Nothing, however, in imagination is 
so highly fantastical as reality ; and it is very likely that 
some two or three ladies of much pretension and gentility 
flourished upon the parade and frequented the Pump-room, 
from whose conversation her immortal parts of speech 
were appropriated ; but this is of very little importance in 
comparison with the delightful success of the result. The 
Rivals is no such picture of life in Bath as that which, 
half a century later, in altered times, which yet were full 
of humours of their own, Miss Austen made for us in all 
the modest flutter of youthful life and hopes. Sheridan's 
brilliant dramatic sketch is slight in comparison, though 
far more instantly effective, and with a concentration in 
its sharp effects which the stage requires. But yet, no 
doubt, in the bustle and hurry of the successive arrivals, 
in the eager brushing up of the countryman new-launched 
on such a scene, and the aspect of the idle yet bustling 



ii.] HIS FIRST DRAMATIC WORKS. 51 

society, all agog for excitement and pleasure, the brisk 
little holiday city was delightfully recognisable in the eyes 
of those to whom "the Bath" represented all those vaca- 
tion rambles and excursions over the world which amuse 
our leisure now. Scarcely ever was play so full of liveli- 
ness and interest constructed upon a slighter machinery. 
The Rivals of the title, by means of the most simple yet 
amusing of mystifications, are one person. The gallant 
young lover, who is little more than the conventional 
type of that well-worn character, but a manly and live- 
ly one, has introduced himself to the romantic heroine 
in the character of Ensign Beverley, a poor young subal- 
tern, instead of his own much more eligible personality as 
the heir of Sir Anthony Absolute, a baronet with four 
thousand a year, and has gained the heart of the senti- 
mental Lydia, who prefers love in a cottage to the finest 
settlements, and looks forward to an elopement and the 
loss of a great part of her fortune with delight : when his 
plans are suddenly confounded by the arrival of his father 
on the scene, bent on marrying him forthwith in his own 
character to the same lady. Thus he is at the same time 
the romantic and adored Beverley and the detested Cap- 
tain Absolute in her eyes; and how to reconcile her to 
marrying peaceably and with the approval of all her be- 
longings, instead of clandestinely and with all the eclat of 
a secret running away, is the problem. This, however, is 
solved precipitately by the expedient of a duel with the 
third rival, Bob Acres, which shows the fair Lydia that the 
safety of her Beverley, even if accompanied by the con- 
gratulations of friends and a humdrum marriage, is the 
one thing to be desired. Thus the whole action of the 
piece turns upon a mystification, which affords some de- 
lightfully comic scenes, but few of those occasions of sus- 



52 RICHARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAN. [CHAP. 

pense and uncertainty which give interest to the drama. 
This we find in the brisk and delightful movement of the 
piece, in the broad but most amusing sketches of charac- 
ter, and the unfailing wit and sparkle of the dialogue. In 
fact, we believe that many an audience has enjoyed the 
play, and, what is more wonderful, many a reader laughed 
over it in private, without any clear realisation of the sto- 
ry at all, so completely do Sir Anthony's fits of temper, 
and Mrs. Malaprop's fine language and stately presence, 
and the swagger of Bob Acres, occupy and amuse us. 
Even Faulkland, the jealous and doubting, who invents a 
new misery for himself at every word, and finds an occa- 
sion for wretchedness even in the smiles of his mistress, 
which are always either too cold or too warm for him, is 
so laughable in his starts aside at every new suggestion of 
jealous fancy, that we forgive him not only a great deal 
of fine language, but the still greater drawback of having 
nothing to do with the action of the piece at all. 

Mrs. Malaprop's ingenious " derangement of epitaphs " 
is her chief distinction to the popular critic; and even 
though such a great competitor as Dogberry has occu- 
pied the ground before her, those delightful absurdities 
have never been surpassed. But justice has hardly been 
done to the individual character of this admirable if broad 
sketch of a personage quite familiar in such scenes as that 
which Bath presented a century ago, the plausible, well- 
bred woman, with a great deal of vanity, and no small 
share of good-nature, whose inversion of phrases is quite 
representative of the blurred realisation she has of sur- 
rounding circumstances, and who is quite sincerely puzzled 
by the discovery that she is not so well qualified to enact 
the character of Delia as her niece would be. Mrs. Mala- 
prop has none of the harshness of Mrs. Hardcastle, in She 



IL] HIS FIRST DRAMATIC WORKS. 53 

Stoops to Conquer, and we take it unkind of Captain Ab- 
solute to call her "a weatherbeaten she -dragon." The 
complacent nod of her head, the smirk on her face, her 
delightful self-satisfaction and confidence in her " parts of 
speech," have nothing repulsive in them. No doubt she 
imposed upon Bob Acres ; and could Catherine Morland 
and Mrs. Allen have seen her face and heard her talk, these 
ladies would, we feel sure, have been awed by her presence. 
And she is not unkind to Lydia, though the minx deserves 
it, and has no desire to appropriate her fortune. She smiles 
upon us still in many a watering-place large, gracious, 
proud of her conversational powers, always a delightful 
figure to meet with, and filling the shop -keeping ladies 
with admiration. Sir Anthony, though so amusing on 
stage, is more conventional, since we know he must get 
angry presently whenever we meet him, although his com- 
ing round again is equally certain ; but Mrs. Malaprop is 
never quite to be calculated upon, and is always capable 
of a new simile as captivating as that of the immortal 
" allegory on the banks of the Nile." 

The other characters, though full of brilliant talk, clev- 
erness, and folly, have less originality. The country hob- 
bledehoy, matured into a dandy and braggart by his en- 
trance into the intoxicating excitement of Bath society, is 
comical in the highest degree ; but he is not characteristi- 
cally human. While Mrs. Malaprop can hold her ground 
with Dogberry, Bob Acres is not fit to be mentioned in 
the same breath with the " exquisite reasons " of that de- 
lightful knight, Sir Andrew Aguecheek. And thus it be- 
comes at once apparent that Sheridan's eye for a situation, 
and the details that make up a striking combination on 
the stage, was far more remarkable than his insight into 
human motives and action. There is no scene on the 



64 HICHAM) BRINSLEY SHERIDAN. [CHAP. 

stage which retains its power of amusing an ordinary 
audience more brilliantly than that of the proposed duel, 
where the wittiest of boobies confesses to feeling his 
valour ooze out at his finger-ends, and the fire-eating Sir 
Lucius promises, to console him, that he shall be pickled 
and sent home to rest with his fathers, if not content 
with the snug lying in the abbey. The two men are lit- 
tle more than symbols of the slightest description, but 
their dialogue is instinct with wit, and that fun, the most 
English of qualities, which does not reach the height of 
humour, yet overwhelms even gravity itself with a laugh- 
ter in which there is no sting or bitterness. Moliere some- 
times attains this effect, but rarely, having too much mean- 
ing in him ; but with Shakspeare it is frequent amongst 
higher things. And in Sheridan this gift of innocent 
ridicule and quick embodiment of the ludicrous without 
malice or arriere-pensee reaches to such heights of excel- 
lence as have given his nonsense a sort of immortality. 

It is, however, difficult to go far in discussion or an- 
alysis of a literary production which attempts no deeper 
investigation into human nature than this. Sheridan's 
art, from its very beginning, was theatrical, if we may use 
the word, rather than dramatic. It aimed at strong situ- 
ations and highly effective scenes rather than at a finely 
constructed story, or the working out of either plot or 
passion. There is nothing to be discovered in it by the 
student, as in those loftier dramas which deal with the 
higher qualities and developments of the human spirit. 
It is possible to excite a very warm controversy in almost 
any company of ordinarily educated people at any mo- 
ment upon the character of Hamlet. And criticism will 
always find another word to say even upon the less pro- 
found but delightful mysteries of such a poetical creation 



ii.] HIS FIRST DRAMATIC WORKS. 55 

as Rosalind, all glowing with ever varied life and love and 
fancy. But the lighter drama with which we have now 
to deal hides no depths under its brilliant surface. The 
pretty, fantastical Lydia, with her romances, her impatience 
of ordinary life, her hot little spark of temper, was new 
to the stage, and when she finds a fitting representative 
can be made delightful upon it ; but there is nothing 
further to find out about her. The art is charming, the 
figures full of vivacity, the touch that sets them before us 
exquisite : except, indeed, in the Faulkland scenes, prob- 
ably intended as a foil for the brilliancy of the others, in 
which Julia's magnificent phrases are too much for us, 
and make us deeply grateful to Sheridan for the discrim- 
ination which kept him save in one appalling instance 
from the serious drama. But there are no depths to be 
sounded, and no suggestions to be carried out. While, 
however, its merits as literature are thus lessened, its at- 
tractions as a play are increased. There never was a 
comedy more dear to actors, as there never was one more 
popular on the stage. The even balance of its characters, 
the equality of the parts, scarcely one of them being quite 
insignificant, and each affording scope enough for a good 
player to show what is in him, must make it always pop- 
ular in the profession. It is, from the same reason, the 
delight of amateurs. 

Moore quotes from an old copy of the play a humorous 
dedication written by Tickell, Sheridan's brother-in-law, to 
Indolence. " There is a propriety in prefixing your name 
to a work begun entirely at your suggestion and finished 
under your auspices," Tickell says; and, notwithstanding 
his biographer's attempt to prove that Sheridan polished 
all he wrote with extreme care, and cast and recast his lit- 
erary efforts, there is an air of ease and lightness in his 



66 RICHARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAN. [CHAP. 

earlier work which makes the dedication sufficiently ap- 
propriate. It must have amused his own fancy while he 
wrote, as it has amused his audience ever since. It is the 
one blossom of production which had yet appeared in so 
many easy years. A wide margin of leisure, of pleasure, 
of facile life, extends around it. It was done quickly, it 
appears, when once undertaken a pleasing variety upon 
the featureless course of months and years. The preface 
which Sheridan himself prefixed to the play when printed 
justifies itself on the score that " the success of the piece has 
prohably been founded on a circumstance which the author 
is informed has not before attended a theatrical trial": 

" I need scarcely add that the circumstance alluded to was the 
withdrawing of the piece to remove these imperfections in the first 
representation which were too obvious to escape reprehension, and 
too numerous to admit of a hasty correction. ... It were unnecessary 
to enter into any further extenuation of what was thought exception- 
able in this play, but that it has been said that the managers should 
have prevented some of the defects before its appearance to the pub- 
lic and, in particular, the uncommon length of the piece as repre- 
sented the first night. It were an ill return for the most liberal and 
gentlemanly conduct on their side to suffer any censure to rest where 
none was deserved. Hurry in writing has long been exploded as an 
excuse for an author ; however, in the dramatic line, it may happen 
that both an author and a manager may wish to fill a chasm in the 
entertainment of the public with a hastiness not altogether culpable. 
The season was advanced when I first put the play into Mr. Harris's 
hands ; it was at that time at least double the length of any acting 
comedy. I profited by his judgment and experience in the curtail- 
ing of it, till I believe his feeling for the vanity of a young author 
got the better of his desire for correctness, and he left so many ex- 
crescences remaining because he had assisted in pruning so many 
more. Hence, though I was not uninformed that the acts were still 
too long, I flattered myself that after the first trial I might with 
safer judgment proceed to remove what should appear to have been 
most dissatisfactory." 



it.] HIS FIRST DRAMATIC WORKS. 87 

These were, it is true, days of leisure, when nothing was 
pushed and hurried on, as now. But it would require, one 
would think, no little firmness and courage on the part of 
a young author to risk the emendation of errors so serious 
after an unfavourable first-night, and a great confidence on 
the part of the manager to permit such an experiment. 
But there are some men who impress all around them 
with such a certainty of power and success, that even 
managers dare, and publishers volunteer, in their favour. 
Sheridan was evidently one of these men. There was an 
atmosphere of triumph about him. He had carried off 
his siren from all competitors; he had defied all induce- 
ments to give her up to public hearing after; he had 
flown in the face of prudence and every frugal tradition. 
And, so far as an easy and happy life went, he was appar- 
ently succeeding in that attempt. So he was allowed to 
take his unsuccessful comedy off the stage and trim it into 
his own guise of triumph. We are not told how long 
the interval was, which would have been instructive (the 
anonymous biographer says " a few days "). It was pro- 
duced in January, however, and a month later we hear of 
it in preparation at Bath, where its success was extraordi- 
nary. The same witness, whom we have just quoted, 
adds that " Sheridan's prospective six hundred pounds 
was more than doubled by its success and the liberality 
of the manager." 

He had thus entered fully upon his career as a drama- 
tist. In the same year he wrote in gratitude, it is said, 
to the Irish actor who had saved the Rivals by his felic- 
itous representation of Sir Lucius the farce called St. 
Patrick's Day ; or, the Scheming Lieutenant, a very slight 
production, founded on the tricks, so familiar to comedy, 

of a lover's ingenuity to get entrance into the house of 
E 30 



68 RICHARD BRTNSLEY SHERIDAN. [CHAP. 

his mistress. The few opening sentences, which are en- 
tirely characteristic of Sheridan, are almost the best part 
of the production : they are spoken by a party of soldiers 
coming with a complaint to their officer : 

" lt Sol. I say, you are wrong ; we should all speak together, each 
for himself, and all at once, that we may be heard the better. 
" %d Sol. Right, Jack ; we'll argue in platoons. 
" 3d Sol. Ay, ay, let him have our grievances in a volley." 

The lieutenant, whose suit is scorned by the parents of 
his Lauretta, contrives, by the aid of a certain Dr. Rosy, a 
comic, but not very comic, somewhat long-winded person- 
age, to get into the house of Justice Credulous, her father, 
as a servant; but is discovered and turned out. He then 
writes a letter asserting that, in his first disguise, he has 
given the Justice poison, an assertion which is met with 
perfect faith ; upon which he comes in again as the famous 
quack doctor, so familiar to us in the pages of Moliere. 
In this case the quack is a German, speaking only a bar- 
barous jargon, but he speedily cures the Justice, on con- 
dition of receiving the hand of his daughter. " Did he 
say all that in so few words?" cries Justice Credulous, 
when one of the stranger's utterances is explained to him. 
"What a fine language it is!" just as M.Jourdain de- 
lightedly acknowledged the eloquence of la langue Turque, 
which could express tant de choses dans un seul mot. The 
Scheming Lieutenant still keeps its ground among Sheri- 
dan's works, bound up between the Rivals and the School 
for Scandal, a position in which one cannot help feeling 
it must be much astonished to find itself. 

In the end of the year the opera of the Duenna was 
also produced at Covent Garden. The praise and imme- 
diate appreciation with which it was received were still 



n.] HIS FIRST DRAMATIC WORKS. 69 

greater than those that hailed the Rivals. "The run of 
this opera has, I believe, no parallel in the annals of the 
drama," says Moore, speaking in days when the theatre 
had other rules than those known among ourselves. " Six- 
ty-three nights was the career of the Beggar's Opera ; but 
the Duenna was acted no less than seventy-five times dur- 
ing the season," and the enthusiasm which it called forth 
was general. It was pronounced better than the Beggar's 
Opera, up to that time acknowledged to be the first and 
finest production of the never very successful school of 
English opera. Opera at all was as yet an exotic in Eng- 
land, and the public still resented the importation of Italian 
music and Italian singers to give it utterance, and fondly 
clung to the idea of being able to produce as good or bet- 
ter at home. The Duenna was a joint work, in which 
Sheridan was glad to associate with himself his father-in- 
law, Linley, whose airs to the songs, which were plentifully 
introduced and which gave its name to what is in reality 
a short comedy on the lines of Moliere, interspersed with 
songs, and not an opera in the usual sense of the word at 
all were much commended at the time. The little lyrics 
which are put indiscriminately into the mouths of the dif- 
ferent personages are often extremely pretty ; but few peo- 
ple in these days have heard them sung, though lines from 
the verses are still familiar enough to our ears in the way 
of quotation. The story of the piece belongs to the same 
easy, artificial inspiration which dictated the trivial plot of 
St. Patrick's Day, and of so many others. It is " mainly 
founded," says Moore, " upon an incident borrowed from 
the Country Wife of Wycherley," but it seems hardly nec- 
essary to seek a parent for so banal a contrivance. The 
father, with whom we are all so familiar, has to be tricked 
out of his daughter by one of the monotonous lovers with 



60 RICHARD BRIXSLEY SHERIDAN. [CHAP. 

whom we are more familiar still ; but instead of waiting 
till her gallant shall invent a plan for this purpose, the 
lady cuts the knot herself, by the help of her duenna, who 
has no objection to marry the rich Jew whom Louisa ab- 
hors, and who remains in the garb of her young mistress, 
while the latter escapes in the duenna's hood and veil. 
The Portuguese Isaac from whom the lady flies is a crafty 
simpleton, and when he finds the old duenna waiting for 
him under the name of Louisa (whom her father, for the 
convenience of the plot, has vowed never to see till she is 
married) he accepts her, though much startled by her ven- 
erable and unlovely appearance, as the beautiful creature 
who has been promised to him, with only the rueful re- 
flection to himself, " How blind some parents are !" and, as 
she explains that she also has made a vow never to accept 
a husband from her father's hands, carries her off, as she 
suggests, with much simplicity and the astute reflection, 
" If I take her at her word I secure her fortune and avoid 
making any settlement in return." In the meantime two 
pairs of interesting lovers, Louisa and her Antonio, her 
brother Ferdinand and his Clara, are wandering about in 
various disguises, with a few quarrels and reconciliations, 
and a great many songs, which they pause to sing at the 
most inappropriate moments, after the fashion of opera. 
In order to be married which all are anxious to be Isaac 
and one of the young gallants go to a " neighbouring mon- 
astery," such establishments being delightfully handy in 
Seville, where the scene is laid ; and the hot Protestantism 
of the audience is delighted by an ecclesiastical interior, in 
which " Father Paul, Father Francis, and other friars are 
discovered at a table drinking," singing convivial songs, 
and promising to remember their penitents in their cups, 
which will do quite as much good as masses. Father Paul 



n.] HIS FIRST DRAMATIC WORKS. 61 

is the supposed ascetic of the party, and comes forward 
when called with a glass of wine in his hand, chiding them 
for having disturbed his devotions. The three couples are 
then married by this worthy functionary, and the whole 
ends with a scene at the house of the father, when the 
trick is revealed to him, and, amid general blessings and 
forgiveness, the Jew discovers that he has married the pen- 
niless duenna instead of the lady with a fortune, whom he 
has helped to deceive himself as well as her father. The 
duenna, who has been, like all the old ladies in these plays, 
the subject of a great many unmannerly remarks when 
an old woman is concerned Sheridan's fine gentlemen al- 
ways forget their manners is revealed in all her poverty 
and ugliness beside the pretty young ladies; and Isaac's 
conceit and admiration of himself, " a sly little villain, a 
cunning dog," etc., are unmercifully laughed at; while the 
rest of the party make up matters with the easily mollified 
papa. 

Such is the story. There is very little character attempt- 
ed, save in Isaac, who is a sort of rudimentary sketch of 
a too cunning knave or artful simpleton caught in his own 
toils ; and the dialogue, if sometimes clever enough, never 
for a moment reaches the sparkle of the Rivals. " The 
wit of the dialogue," Moore says using that clever mist 
of words with which an experienced writer hides the fact 
that he can find nothing to say on a certain subject " ex- 
cept in one or two instances, is of that amusing kind which 
lies near the surface which is produced without effort, 
and may be enjoyed without wonder." If this means that 
there is nothing at all wonderful about it, it is no doubt 
true enough ; though there are one or two phrases which 
are worth preserving, such as that in which the Jew is de- 
scribed as being " like the blank leaves between the Old 



62 RICHARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAN. [CHAP. 

and New Testament," since be is a convert of recent date 
and no very certain faith. 

It was, however, the music which made the piece popu- 
lar, and the songs which Sheridan wrote for Linley's set- 
ting were many of them pretty, and all neat and clever. 
Everybody knows " Had I a heart for falsehood framed," 
which is sung by the walking gentleman of the piece, a 
certain Don Carlos, who has nothing to do but to take 
care of Louisa during her wanderings, and to sing some 
of the prettiest songs. Perhaps, on the whole, this is the 
best: 

" Had I a heart for falsehood framed, 

I ne'er could injure you ; 
For though your tongue no promise claim'd, 

Your charms would make ine true. 
To you no soul shall bear deceit, 

No stranger offer wrong ; 
But friends in all the aged you'll meet, 
And lovers in the young. 

" But when they learn that you have blest 

Another with your heart, 
They'll bid aspiring passion cease 

And act a brother's part. 
Then, lady, dread not here deceit, 

Nor fear to suffer wrong ; 
For friends in all the aged you'll meet, 

And lovers in the young." 

The part of Carlos is put in, with Sheridan's usual indif- 
ference to construction, for the sake of the music, and in 
order to employ a certain tenor who was a favourite with 
the public, there being no possible occasion for him, so far 
as the dramatic action is concerned. 

This is what Byron, nearly half a century after, called 
** the best opera" in English, and which was lauded to the 



n.] HIS FIRST DRAMATIC WORKS. 63 

skies in its day. The Beggar's Opera, with which it is 
constantly compared, has, however, much outlived it iu 
the general knowledge, if the galvanic and forced resurrec- 
tion given by an occasional performance can be called life. 
The songs are sung no longer, and many who quote lines 
like the well-known " Sure such a pair were never seen " 
are in most cases totally unaware where they come from. 
Posterity, which has so thoroughly carried out the judg- 
ment of contemporaries in respect to the Rivals, has not 
extended its favour to the Duenna. Perhaps the attempt 
to conjoin spoken dialogue to any great extent with music 
is never a very successful attempt : for English opera does 
not seem to last. Its success is momentary. Musical en- 
thusiasts care little for the " words," and not even so much 
for melody as might be desired ; and the genuine playgoer 
is impatient of those interruptions to the action of a piece 
which has any pretence at dramatic interest, while neither- 
of the conjoint arts do their best in such a formal copart- 
nery. Sheridan, however, spared no pains to make the 
partnership successful. He was very anxious that the 
composer should be on the spot and secure that his com- 
positions were done full justice to. " Harris is extrava- 
gantly sanguine of its success as to plot and dialogue," he 
writes ; " they will exert themselves to the utmost in the 
scenery, etc. ; but I never saw any one so disconcerted as 
he was at the idea of there being no one to put them in 
the right way as to music." "Dearest father," adds Mrs. 
Sheridan, " I shall have no spirits or hopes of the opera 
unless we see you." The young dramatist, however, had 
his ideas as to the music as well as the literary portion of 
the piece, and did not submit himself blindly to his father- 
in-law's experience. " The first," he says, " I should wish 
to be a pert, sprightly air, for though some of the words 



64 RICHARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAN. [CHAP. 

mayn't seem suited to it, I should mention that they are 
neither of them in earnest in what they say : Leoni (Car- 
los) takes it up seriously, and I want him to show advan- 
tageously in the six lines beginning, ' Gentle Maid.' I 
should tell you that he sings nothing well but in a plain- 
tive or pastoral style, and his voice is such as appears to me 
always to be hurt by much accompaniment. I have ob- 
served, too, that he never gets so much applause as when 
he makes a cadence. Therefore my idea is that he should 
make a flourish at ' Shall I grieve you.' " These instruc- 
tions show how warmly Sheridan at this period of life 
interested himself in every detail of his theatrical work. 
Linley, it is said, had the good sense to follow these direc- 
tions implicitly. 

The success of the Duenna at Covent Garden put Gar- 
rick and his company at the rival theatre on their mettle; 
and it was wittily said that " the old woman would be the 
death of the old man." Garrick chose the moment when 
her son was proving so dangerous a rival to him to resusci- 
tate Mrs. Sheridan's play called the Discovery, in which he 
himself played the chief part a proceeding which does 
not look very friendly ; and as Thomas Sheridan had been 
put forth by his enemies as the great actor's rival, it might 
well be that there was no very kind feeling between them. 
But the next chapter in young Sheridan's life shows Gar- 
rick in so benevolent a light that it is evident his animos- 
ity to the father, if it existed, had no influence on his con- 
duct to the son. Garrick was now very near the close of 
his career ; and when it was understood that he meant, not 
only to retire from the stage, but to resign his connection 
with the theatre altogether, a great commotion arose in 
the theatrical world. These were the days of patents, 
when the two great theatres held a sort of monopoly, and 



n.] HIS FIRST DRAMATIC WORKS. 65 

were safe from all rivalship except that of each other. It 
was at the end of the year 1775 that Garrick's intention 
of " selling his moiety of the patent of Drury Lane Thea- 
tre " became known ; and Richard Sheridan was then in 
the early flush of his success, crowding the rival theatre, 
and promising a great succession of brilliant work to come. 
But it conld scarcely be supposed that a young man just 
emerging out of obscurity rich, indeed, in his first gains, 
and no doubt seeing before him a great future, but yet 
absolutely destitute of capital could have been audacious 
enough, without some special encouragement, to think of 
acquiring this great but precarious property, and launch- 
ing himself upon such a venture. How he came to think 
of it we are left uninformed, but the first whisper of the 
chance seems to have inflamed his mind; and Garrick, 
whether or not he actually helped him with money, as 
some say, was at all events favourable to him from the 
beginning of the negotiations. He had promised that the 
refusal should first be offered to Colman ; but when Col- 
man, as he expected, declined, it was the penniless young 
dramatist whom of all competitors the old actor preferred, 
Sheridan had a certain amount of backing, though not 
enough, as far as would appear, to lessen the extraordi- 
nary daring of the venture his father-in-law, Linley, who 
it is to be supposed had in his long career laid up some 
money, taking part in the speculation along with a certain 
Dr. Ford; but both in subordination to the young man 
who had no money at all. Here are Sheridan's explana- 
tions of the matter addressed to his father-in-law : 

"According to his (Garrick's) demand, the whole is valued at 
70,000. He appears very shy of letting his books be looked into 
as the test of the profits on this sum, but says it must be in its na- 
ture a purchase on speculation. However, he had promised me a 
4 



66 RICHARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAN. [CHAP. 

rough estimate of his own of the entire receipts for the last seven 
years. But after all it must certainly be a purchase on speculation 
without money's worth having been made out. One point he solemn- 
ly avers, which is that he will never part with it under the price 
above-mentioned. This is all I can say on the subject until Wednes- 
day, though I can't help adding that I think we might safely give 
6000 more on this purchase than richer people. The whole valued 
at 70,000, the annual interest is 3500 ; while this is cleared the 
proprietors are safe. But I think it must be infernal management 
indeed that does not double it." 

A few days later the matter assumes a definite shape : 

" Garrick was extremely explicit, and in short we came to a final 
resolution ; so that if the necessary matters are made out to all our 
satisfactions, we may sign and seal a previous engagement within a 
fortnight. 

" I meet him again to-morrow evening, when we are to name a day 
for a conveyancer on our side to meet his solicitor, Wallace. I have 
pitched on a Mr. Phipps, at the recommendation and by the advice of 
Dr. Ford. The three first steps to be taken are these our lawyer 
is to look into the titles, tenures, etc., of the house and adjoining 
estate, the extent and limitations of the patent, etc. ; we shall then 
employ a builder (I think Mr. Collins) to survey the state and repair 
in which the whole premises are, to which Mr. G. entirely consents ; 
Mr. G. will then give us a fair and attested estimate from his books 
of what the profits have been, at an average, for these last seven 
years. This he has shown me in rough, and, valuing the property at 
70,000, the interest has exceeded ten per cent. 

" We should after this certainly make an interest to get the King's 
promise that while the theatre is well conducted, etc., he will grant 
no patent for a third, though G. seems confident he never will. If 
there is any truth in professions and appearances, G. seems likely al- 
ways to continue our friend and to give every assistance in his power. 

"The method of our sharing the purchase, I should think, may 
be thus Ewart to take 10,000, you 10,000, and I 10, 000. Dr. 
Ford agrees with the greatest pleasure to embark the other 5000 ; 
and, if you do not choose to venture so much, will, I daresay, share it 
with you. Ewart is preparing his money, and I have a certainty of 



n.] HIS FIRST DRAMATIC WORKS. 6T 

my part. We shall have a very useful ally in Dr. Ford, and my fa- 
ther offers his services on our own terms. We cannot unite Gar- 
rick to our interests too firmly; and I am convinced his influence 
will bring Leasy to our terms, if he should be ill-advised enough to 
desire to interfere in what he is totally unqualified for." 

Ewart was the ever-faithful friend to whose house in 
London Sheridan had taken Miss Linley, whose son had 
been his second in the affair with Captain Matthews a 
man upon whose support the Sheridan family could always 
rely. But the source from which young Richard himself 
got the money for his own share remains a mystery, of 
which no one has yet found the solution. " Not even to 
Mr. Liuley," says Moore, " while entering into all other 
details, does he hint at the fountain-head from which the 
supply is to come," and he adds a few somewhat common- 
place reflections as to the manner in which all Sheridan's 
successes had as yet been obtained : 

" There was, indeed, something mysterious and miraculous about 
all his acquisitions, whether in love, in learning, in wit, or in wealth. 
How or when his stock of knowledge .was laid in nobody knew : it 
was as much a matter of marvel to those who never saw him read as 
the mode of existence of the chameleon has been to those who fan- 
cied it never eat. His advances in the heart of his mistress were, as 
we have seen, equally trackless and inaudible, and his triumph was 
the first that even his rivals knew of his love. In like manner the 
productions of his wit took the world by surprise, being perfected in 
secret till ready for display, and then seeming to break from under 
the cloud of his indolence in full maturity of splendour. His finan- 
cial resources had no less an air of magic about them ; and the mode 
by which he conjured up at this time the money for his first purchase 
into the theatre remains, as far as I can learn, still a mystery." 

These remarks are somewhat foolish, to say the least, 
since the mystery attending the sudden successes of a 



68 RICHARD BRIXSLEY SHERIDAN. [CHAP. 

young man of genius are sufficiently explained as soon as 
his possession of that incommunicable quality has once 
been established; and the triumph of a brilliant youth, 
whose fascinating talk and social attractions were one of 
the features of his age, over his commonplace rivals in the 
heart of a susceptible girl does not even require genius to 
explain it. But neither genius itself nor all the personal 
fascination in the world can, alas! produce, when it is 
wanted, ten thousand pounds. The anonymous author of 
Sheridan and his Times asserts confidently that Garrick 
himself advanced the money, having conceived a great 
friendship for Sheridan, and formed a strong opinion as 
to his capacity to increase the reputation and success of 
the theatre. Of this statement, however, no proof is of- 
fered, and Moore evidently gives no credence to such a 
suggestion, though he notices that it had been made. The 
money was procured by some friendly help, no doubt. 
There were, as has been said, only the two great theatres 
in these days, none of the later crop having as yet sprung 
up, and each being under the protection of a patent ; the 
speculation, therefore, was not so hazardous as it has proved 
to be since. It is, however, besides the mystery about the 
money, a most curious transformation to see the young 
idler, lover, and man of pleasure suddenly placed at the 
head of such an undertaking, with so much responsibility 
upon his shoulders, and accustomed only to the shiftless 
and hand-to-mouth living of extravagant poverty become 
at once the administrator of a considerable revenue and 
the head of a little community dependent upon him. He 
had done nothing all his life except, in a fit of inspiration 
of very recent date, produce a couple of plays. But it 
does not seem that any doubt of his powers crossed his 
mind or that of any of his associates. " Do not flag when 



ii.j HIS FIRST DRAMATIC WORKS. 69 

we come to the point," he says to his father-in-law ; " I'll 
answer for it we shall see many golden campaigns." 

The stir and quickening of new energy is apparent in 
all he writes. The circumstances were such as might well 
quicken the steadiest pulse, for not only was he likely to 
lay a foundation of fortune for himself (and his first child 
had lately been born " a very magnificent fellow "), but 
his nearest connexions on both sides were involved, and 
likely to owe additional comfort and importance to the 
young prodigal whose own father had disowned him, and 
his wife's received him with the greatest reluctance a re- 
flection which could not but be sweet. With such hopes 
in his mind, the sobriety and composure with which he 
writes are astonishing : 

" Leasy is utterly unequal to any department in the theatre. He 
has an opinion of me, and is very willing to let the whole burden 
and ostensibility be taken off his shoulders. But I certainly should 
not give up my time and labour (for his superior advantage, having 
so much greater a share) without some conclusive advantage. Yet 
I should by no means make the demand till I had shown myself 
equal to the task. My father purposes to be with us but one year : 
and that only to give us what advantage he can from his experience. 
He certainly must be paid for his trouble, and so certainly must you. 
You have experience and character equal to the line you would un- 
dertake, and it never can enter into anybody's head that you were to 
give your time, or any part of your attention, gratis because you had 
a share in the theatra. I have spoken on the subject both to Gar- 
rick and Leasy, and you will find no demur on any side to your gain- 
ing a certain income from the theatre, greater, I think, than you 
could make out of it, and in this the theatre would be acting only 
for its own advantage." 

The other shareholder, who held the half of the prop- 
erty while Sheridan, Linley, and Ford divided the other 
half between them was a Mr. Lacy ; and there seems a 



?0 RICHARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAN. [CHAP. 

charming possibility of some reminiscence of the brogue, 
though Sheridan probably had never been touched by it 
in his own person, having left Ireland as a child in the 
misspelling of the name. It is impossible not to sympa- 
thise with him in the delightful consciousness of having 
proved the futility of all objections, and become the aid 
and hope, instead of the detriment and burden, of both 
families, which must have sweetened his own brilliant 
prospects. His father evidently was now fully reconciled 
and sympathetic, proud of his son, and disposed (though 
not without a consideration) to give him the benefit of his 
experience and advice ; and Linley was to have the chance 
of an income from the theatre "greater than he could 
make out of it." With what sweet moisture the eyes of 
the silenced Diva at home, the St Cecilia whose mouth 
her young husband's adoring pride had stopped, must 
have glistened to think that her father, who had done all 
he could to keep her Sheridan at arm's length, was now 
to have his fortune made by that injured and unappre- 
ciated hero ! She had other causes for happiness and 
glory. "Your grandson," Sheridan adds, in the same 
letter to Linley, " astonishes everybody by his vivacity, his 
talents for music and poetry, and the most perfect integ- 
rity of mind." Everything was now brilliant and hopeful 
about the young pair. The only drawback was the un- 
easiness of Sheridan's position, until the business should 
be finally settled, between the two theatres. " My confi- 
dential connexion with the other house," he says, " is pe- 
culiarly distressing till I can with prudence reveal my 
situation, and such a treaty, however prudently managed, 
cannot long be kept secret." 

The matter was settled early in the year 1776, Sheridan 
then twenty - five. Before the end of the year 




IL] HIS FIRST DRAMATIC WORKS. 71 

troubles arose with Lacy, and it would seem that Sheridan 
took the strong step of retiring from the managership and 
carrying the actors along with him, leaving the other per- 
plexed and feeble proprietor to do the best he could with 
such materials as he could pick up. All quarrels, how- 
ever, were soon made up, and affairs proceeded amicably 
for some time ; but Sheridan eventually bought Lacy out 
at a further expenditure of 45,000, partly obtained, it 
would appear, from Garrick, partly by other means. The 
narrative is not very clear, nor is it very important to 
know what squabbles might convulse the theatre, or how 
the friends of Lacy might characterise the " conceited 
young man," who showed no inclination to consult a col- 
league of so different a calibre from himself. But it 
seems to be agreed on all sides that the beginning of 
Sheridan's reign at Drury was not very prosperous. 
Though he had shown so much energy in his financial 
arrangements at the beginning, it was not easy to get over 
the habits of all his previous life, and work with the steadi- 
ness and regularity of a man of business, as was needful. 
There was an interval of dulness which did not carry out 
the hopes very naturally formed when the young dramatist 
who had twice filled the rival theatre with eager crowds 
and applause came to the head of affairs. Garrick, who 
had so long been its chief attraction, was gone ; and it was 
a new group of actors, unfamiliar to him, with whom the 
new manager had to do. He remodelled for them a play 
of Vanbrugh's, which he called a Trip to Scarborough, but 
which, notwithstanding all he did to it, remained still the 
production of an earlier age, wanting in the refinement 
and comparative purity which Sheridan himself had 
already done so much to make popular. The Miss Hoy- 
den, the rustic lady whom Lord Foppington is destined to 



72 RICHARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAN. [CHAP.IL 

marry, but does not, is a creature of the species of Tony 
Lumpkin, though infinitely less clever and shrewd than 
that delightful lout, and has no sort of kindred with the 
pretty gentlewoman of Sheridan's natural period. And 
the public were not specially attracted by this rechauffe. 
In fact, after all the excitement and wonderful novelty of 
this astonishing launch into life, the reaction was great 
and discouraging. Old stock pieces of a repertory of 
which Garrick had been the soul new contrivances of 
pantomime " expected to draw all the human race to 
Drury," and which were rendered absolutely necessary, 
" on account of a marvellous preparation of the kind which 
is making at Covent Garden" must have fallen rather 
flat both upon the mind of the manager, still new and in- 
experienced in his office, and of the public, which no doubt 
at the hands of the author of the Rivals, and with the 
songs of the Duenna still tingling in its ears, expected 
great things. But this pause was only the reculer pour 
mieux sauter which precedes a great effort ; for early in 
the next year Sheridan rose to the full height of his 
genius, and the School for Scandal blazed forth, a great 
Jupiter among the minor starlights of the drama, throw- 
ing the rival house and all its preparations altogether into 
the shade. 



CHAPTER III. 
THE "SCHOOL FOR SCANDAL." 

IT was clear that a great effort was required for the ad- 
vantage of Drury Lane, to make up for the blow of Gar- 
rick's withdrawal, and to justify the hopes founded upon 
the new management; and Mr. Lacy and the public had 
both reason to wonder that the head which had filled 
Covent Garden from pit to gallery should do nothing for 
the house in which all his hopes of fortune were involved. 
No doubt the cares of management and administration 
were heavy, and the previous training of Sheridan had 
not been such as to qualify him for continuous labour of 
any kind ; but at the same time it was not unnatural that 
his partners in the undertaking should have grumbled at 
the long interval which elapsed before he entered the lists 
in his own person. It was May, 1777, more than a year 
after his entry upon the proprietorship of Drury Lane, 
when the School for Scandal was produced, and then it 
was hurried into the hands of the performers piecemeal 
before it was finished, the last act finding its way to the 
theatre five days before the final production. The manu- 
script, Moore informs us, was issued forth in shreds and 
patches, there being but " one rough draft of the last five 
scenes, scribbled upon detached pieces of paper ; while of 
all the preceding acts there are numerous transcripts, scat- 
F 4* 31 



74 RICHARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAN. [CHAP. 

tered promiscuously through six or seven books, with new 
interlineations and memoranda to each. On the last leaf 
of all, which exists, just as we may suppose it to have 
been despatched by him to the copyist," Moore adds, 
" there is the following curious specimen of a doxology, 
written hastily, in the handwriting of the respective par- 
ties, at the bottom : 

'Finished at last ; thank God ! 

' R. B. SHERIDAN. 
'Amen! 

' W. HAWKINS.' " 

The bearer of the latter name was the prompter, and 
there is a whole history of hurry and anxiety and con- 
fusion, a company disorganised, and an unhappy func- 
tionary at the end of his powers, in this devout exclama- 
tion. It is bad enough to keep the press waiting, but a 
dozen or so of actors arrested in their study, and the 
whole business of the theatre depending upon the time at 
which a man of fashion got home from an entertainment, 
or saw his guests depart in the grey of the morning, is 
chaos indeed. " We have heard him say," writes a gos- 
siping commentator, " that he had in those early days 
stolen from his bed at sunrise to prosecute his literary 
labours, or after midnight, when his visitors had departed, 
flown to his desk, and, at the cost of a bottle of port, sat 
down to resume the work which the previous morning in 
its early rising had dawned upon." fThe highly polished ' 
diction of the School for Scandal, and the high-pressure 
of its keen and trenchant wit^does not look much like 
the excited work of the small hours inspired by port ; but 
a man who is fully launched in the tide of society, and 
sought on all hands to give brilliancy to the parties of his 
patrons, must needs " steal a few hours from the night." 



in.] THE "SCHOOL FOR SCANDAL." 75 

" It was the fate of Sheridan through life," Moore says, 
" and in a great degree his policy, to gain credit for ex- 
cessive indolence and carelessness." It seems very likely 
that he has here hit the mark, and furnished an explana- 
tion for many of the apparently headlong feats of compo- 
sition by which many authors are believed to have dis- 
tinguished themselves. There is no policy which tells bet- 
ter. It is not merely an excuse for minor faults, but an ex- 
traordinary enhancement, in the eyes of the uninstructed, 
of merit of all kinds. To be able to dash off in a mo- 
ment, at a sitting, what would take the laborious plodder 
a week's work, is a kind of triumph which is delightful 
both to the performer and spectator ; and many besides 
Sheridan have found it a matter of policy to keep up such 
a character. The anonymous biographer whom we have 
already quoted is very angry with Moore for attempting 
to show that Sheridan did not dash off his best work in 
this reckless way, but studied every combination, and 
sharpened his sword by repeated trials of its edge and 
temper. The scientific critic has always scorned what the 
multitude admire, and the fashion of our own age has so 
far changed, that to show an elaborate process of work- 
manship for any piece of literary production, and if pos- 
sible to trace its lineage to previous works and well-de- 
fined impulses and influences, is now the favourite object 
of the biographer and commentator. We confess a leaning 
to the primitive method, and a preference for the Minerva 
springing full -armed from the brain of Jove to the god- 
desses more gradually developed of scientific investiga- 
tion. 

But Moore's account of the growth of Sheridan's pow- 
ers, and of the steps by which he ascended to the mastery 
of his art, are interesting and instructive. The Rivals 



76 RICHARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAN. [CHAP. 

sprang into being without much thought, with that in- 
stinctive and unerring perception of the right points to 
recollect and record, which makes observation the uncon- 
scious instrument of genius, and is so immensely and in- 
describably different from mere imitation. ' But the School 
for Scandal a more elaborate performance in every way 
required a different handling. It seems to have floated 
in the writer's mind from the moment when he discovered 
his own powers, stimulating his invention and his memory 
at once, and prompting half a dozen beginnings before the 
right path was discovered. Now it is one story, now an- 
other, that attracts bis fancy. He will enlist those gossip- 
ing circles which he feels by instinct to be so serviceable 
for the stage, to serve the purpose of a scheming woman 
and separate a pair of lovers. Anon, departing from that 
idea, he will employ them to bring about the catastrophe of 
a loveless marriage, in which an old husband and a young 
wife, the very commonplaces of comedy, shall take a new 
and original development. Two distinct stories rise in 
his mind, like two butterflies circling about each other, 
keeping him for a long time undecided which is the best 
for his purpose. The first plot is one which the spec- 
tator has now a little difficulty in tracing through the brill- 
iant scenes which were originally intended to carry it out, 
though it is distinctly stated in the first scene, between 
Lady Sneecwell and Snake, which still opens the comedy. 
As~"it now stands this intimation of her ladyship's purpose 
is far too important for anything that follows, and is apt 
to mystify the spectator, who finds little in the after scenes 
to justify it a confusion at once explained when we are 
made aware that this was the original motif of the entire 
piece, the object of which was to separate, not Charles Sur- 
face, but a sentimental hero called Clariraont, Florival, and 



in.] THE "SCHOOL FOE SCANDAL." 77 

other pastoral names, from the Maria whom he loves, and 
who is the ward, niece, or even step -daughter of Lady 
Sneerwell, a beautiful widow and leader of scandal, who 
loves him. But while the author is playing with this plot, 
and designing fragmentary scenes in which to carry it out, 
the other is tugging at his fancy an entirely distinct 
idea, with a group of new and individual characters : the 
old man and his wife, the two contrasted brothers, one of 
whom is to have the reputation of being her lover, while 
the other is the real villain. At first there is no connection 
whatever between the two. The School for Scandal prop- 
er is first tried. Here would seem to be the first suggest- 
ions of it, no doubt noted down at a venture for future use 
without any very definite intention, perhaps after a morn- 
ing's stroll through the crowd which surrounded the waters 
of the Bath with so many bitternesses. There are here, 
the reader will perceive, no indications of character, or even 
names, to serve as symbols for the Crabtrees and Candours 
to come : 

" THE SLANDERER. A Pump-room Scene. 

" Friendly caution to the newspapers. 

" It is whispered 

" She is a constant attendant at church, and very frequently takes 
Dr. M 'Brawn home with her. 

" Mr. Worthy is very good to the girl : for my part, I dare swear 
he has no ill intention. 

" What ! Major Wesley's Miss Montague ? 

" Lud, ma'am ! the match is certainly broke. No creature knows 
the cause : some say a flaw in the lady's character, and others in the 
gentleman's fortune. 

" To be sure, they do say 

" I hate to repeat what I hear 

" She was inclined to be a little too plump before they went 

" The most intrepid blush. I've known her complexion stand fire 
for an hour together." 



78 RICHARD BRLNSLEY SHERIDAN. [CHAP. 

Whether these jottings suggested the design, or were 
raeiely seized upon by that faculty of appropriating " son 
bien ou il le trouve," which is one of the privileges of 
genius, it is impossible to tell ; but it will be seen that the 
gerin of all the highly-wrought and polished scenes of the 
scandalous college is in them. The first use to which they 
were put is soon visible in the scene between Lady Sneer- 
well and Snake (called Spatter in the original) which 
opened the uncompleted play, and still stands, though with 
much less significance, at the beginning of the actual one. 
In this sketch Crabtree and Sir Benjamin Backbite ap- 
pear as parties to the intrigue, the latter being the lover 
of Maria, and intended to embroil her with Clarimont, who 
is no gallant rake, like his prototype in the existing drama, 
but a piece of perfection, highly superior to the gossip 
" one of your moral fellows . . . who has too much good- 
nature to say a witty thing himself, and is too ill-natured 
to permit it in others," and who is as dull as virtue of this 
abstract type is usually represented on the stage. To show 
the difference in the workmanship, we may quote the only 
portion of the old sketch which is identical in meaning 
with the perfected one. Lady Sneerwell and Spatter are, 
as in the first version, " discovered" when the curtain rises : 

" Lady S. The paragraphs, you say, were all inserted ? 

" Spat. They were, madam. 

" Lady S. Did you circulate the report of Lady Brittle's intrigue 
with Captain Boastall ? 

" Spat. Madam, by this time Lady Brittle is the talk of half the 
town : and in a week will be treated as a demirep. 

" Lady S. What have you done as to the innuendo of Miss Nice- 
ty's fondness for her own footman ? 

" Spat. 'Tis in a fair train, ma'am. I told it to my hair-dresser ; 
he courts a milliner's girl in Pall Mall, whose mistress has a first 
cousin who is waiting-woman to Lady Clackitt. I think in about 



in.] THE "SCHOOL FOR SCANDAL." 79 

fourteen hours it must reach Lady Clackitt, and then, you know, the 
business is done. 

" Lady S. But is that sufficient, do you think ? 

" Spat. Oh Lud, ma'am ! I'll undertake to ruin the character of 
the primmest prude in London with half as much. Ha, ha ! Did 
your ladyship never hear how poor Miss Shepherd lost her lover and 
her character last summer at Scarborough ? This was the whole of 

it. One evening at Lady 's the conversation happened to turn 

on the difficulty of feeding Nova Scotia sheep in England " 

The reader will recollect the story about the sheep, 
which is produced at a later period in the scene, under 
a different name in the actual version, as are Miss Nicely 
and her footman. To show, however, the improvement of 
the artist's taste, we will place beside the less perfect es- 
say we have just quoted the scene as it stands: 

"Lady Sneer. The paragraphs, you say, Mr. Snake, were all in- 
serted ? 

" Snake. They were, madam ; and as I copied them myself, in a 
feigned hand, there can be no suspicion whence they came. 

" Lady Sneer. Did you circulate the report of Lady Brittle's in- 
trigue with Captain Boastall ? 

" Snake. That's in as fine a train as your ladyship could wish. In 
the common course of things I think it must reach Mrs. Clackitt's 
ears within four-and-twenty hours, and then, you know, the business 
is as good as done. 

" Lady Sneer. Why, truly Mrs. Clackitt has a very pretty talent, 
and a great deal of industry. 

" Snake. True, madam, and has been tolerably successful in her 
day. To my knowledge she has been the cause of six matches being 
broken off, and three sons disinherited. . . . Nay, I have more than 
once traced her causing a tete-a-tete in The Town and Country Maga- 
zine, when the parties perhaps had never seen each other before in 
the course of their lives. 

" Lady Sneer. She certainly has talents, but her manner is gross. 

"Snake. 'Tis very true. She generally designs well, has a free 
tongue, and a bold invention ; but her colouring is too dark, and her 



80 RICHARD BRLVSLEY SHERIDAN. [CHAP. 

outlines often extravagant. She wants that delicacy of tint and 
mellowness of sneer which distinguish your ladyship's scandal 

" Lady Sneer. You are partial, Snake. 

" Snake. Not in the least ; everybody allows that Lady Sneerwell 
can do more with a word and a look than many can with the most 
laboured detail, even when they happen to have a little truth on their 
side to support it." 

It seems needless to reproduce the dull and artificial 
scenes which Moore quotes by way of showing how Sher- 
idan floundered through the mud of commonplace before 
he found firm footing on the ground where he achieved so 
brilliant a success. They are like an artist's first experi- 
ments in design, and instructive only in that sense. Per- 
haps it was in the despair which is apt to seize the imag- 
ination when a young writer finds his performance so 
inadequate to express his idea that Sheridan threw the 
whole machinery of the scandalous circle aside and betook 
himself to the construction of the other drama which had 
got into his brain the story of old Teazle and his young 
wife, and of the brothers Plausible or Pliant, or half a doz- 
en names besides, as the fancy of their author varies. In 
the first sketch our friend Sir Peter, that caustic and pol- 
ished gentleman, is Solomon Teazle, a retired tradesman, 
who maunders over his first wife, and his own folly, after 
getting rid of her, in encumbering himself with another ; 
but after a very brief interval this beginning, altogether 
unsuitable to the writer's tastes and capabilities, changes 
insensibly into the more harmonious conception of the old 
husband as we know him. The shopkeeper was not in 
Sheridan's way. Such a hobereau as Bob Acres, with his 
apings of fashion, might come within his limited range, 
but it did not extend to those classes which lie outside 
of society. Trip and Fag and their fellows were strictly 



IIL] THE " SCHOOL FOR SCANDAL." 81 

within this circle ; they are as witty as their masters in the 
hands of the dramatist, and rather more fine, as is the nat- 
ure of a gentleman's gentleman ; and even royalty itself 
must be content to share the stage with these indispensa- 
ble ministers and copyists. But the world beyond was at 
all times a sealed book to this historian of fashionable 
folly and he was wisely inspired in throwing over the 
plebeian. He seems very speedily to have found out his 
mistake, for nothing more is heard of Solomon ; and in 
the next fragmentary scene the dramatist glides at once 
into a discussion of Lady Teazle's extravagances, in which 
we have a great deal of unmeaning detail, all cleared away 
like magic in the existing scene, which is framed upon it, 
yet is as much superior to it as a lively and amusing al- 
tercation can be to the items of a lengthy account inter- 
spersed with mutual recriminations. It would appear, how- 
ever, that the Teazle play was subsequent to the Sneer- 
well one, for there is a great deal of pointed and brilliant 
writing, and much that is retained almost without change, 
in the first adumbrations of the great scenes with Joseph, 
Surface. " So, then," says Lady Teazle, in this early sketch, 
" you would have me sin in my own defence, and part with 
my virtue to preserve my reputation," an epigrammatic 
phrase which is retained without alteration in the final 
scene. Moore tell us that this sentence is " written in 
every direction, and without any material change in its 
form, over the pages of his different memorandum-books." 
It is evident that it had caught Sheridan's fancy, and that 
he had favourite phrases, as some people have favourite 
children, produced on every possible occasion, and always 
delighted in. 

How it was that Sheridan was led to amalgamate these 
two plays into one we are left altogether without iuforma- 



82 RICHARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAN. [CHAP. 

tion. Moore's knowledge seems to have been drawn en- 
tirely from the papers put into his hands, which probably 
no one then living knew much about, belonging as they 
did to the early career of a man who had lived to be old, 
and abandoned altogether the walk of literature, in which 
he had won his early laurels. He surmises that the two- 
act comedy which Sheridan tells Lin ley is about to be put 
in rehearsal may have been the Teazle play ; but this is 
mere conjecture, and we can only suppose that Sheridan 
had found, as he grew better acquainted with the require- 
ments of the stage, that neither of the plots he had 
sketched out was enough to keep the interest of the au- 
dience ; and that, in the necessity that pressed upon him 
for something to fill the stage and stop the mouths of his 
new company and associates, he threw the two plots to- 
gether by a sudden inspiration, knitting the one to the 
other by the dazzling links of those scandalous scenes 
which, to tell the truth, have very little to do with either. 
Whether he transferred these bodily from an already pol- 
ished and completed sketch, working them into the mate- 
rials needed for his double intrigue with as little alteration 
of the original fabric as possible, or if in his haste and 
confidence of success he deliberately refrained from con- 
necting them with the action of the piece, we have no 
way of telling. The daring indifference which he shows 
to that supposed infallible rule of dramatic composition 
which ordains that every word of the dialogue should help 
on the action, is edifying, and shows how entirely indepen- 
dent of rule is success. At the same time it strikes us as 
curious that Sheridan did not find it expedient to employ 
the evil tongues a little more upon the group of people 
whose fortunes are the immediate subject of the comedy. 
For instance, there is no warrant whatever in the play for 



in.] THE "SCHOOL FOR SCANDAL." 83 

the suspicion of Charles Surface which Sir Peter expresses 
at an exciting moment. A hint of his character and im- 
pending troubles is indeed given us, but nothing that can 
in the least link his name with that of Lady Teazle 
which seems a distinct inadvertence on the part of the 
dramatist, since there might have been an admirable op- 
portunity for piquing our curiosity by a seance of the 
scandalmongers upon the possible relations between those 
two gay prodigals. 

The scandalous scenes, however (save the last of them), 
are almost entirely without connexion with the plot. They 
can be detached and enjoyed separately without any sen- 
sible loss in the reader's (or even spectator's) mind. In 
themselves the management of all the details is inimitable. 
The eager interchange takes away our breath ; there is no 
break or possibility of pause in it. The malign suggest- 
ion, the candid astonishment, the spite which assails, and 
the malicious good-nature which excuses, are all balanced 
to perfection, with a spirit which never flags for a moment. 
And when the veterans in the art are joined by a brilliant 
and mischievous recruit in the shape of Lady Teazle, rush- 
ing in amongst them in pure gaite du coeur, the energy of 
her young onslaught outdoes them all. The talk has never 
been so brilliant, never so pitiless, as when she joins them. 
She adds the gift of mimicry to all their malice, and pro- 
duces a genuine laugh even from those murderers of their 
neighbours' reputations. This is one of the side-lights, 
perhaps unintentional, which keen insight throws upon 
human nature, showing how mere headlong imitation and 
high spirits, and the determination to do whatever other 
people do, and a little more, go further than the most 
mischievous intention. Perhaps the author falls into his 
usual fault of giving too much wit and point to the utter- 



84 RICHARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAN. [CHAP. 

ances of the young wife, who is not intended to be clever ; 
but her sudden dash into the midst of the dowagers, and 
unexpected victory over them in their own line, is full of 
nature. " Very well, Lady Teazle, I see you can be a little 
severe," says Lady Sneerwell, expressing the astonishment 
of the party ; while Mrs. Candour hastens to welcome Sir 
Peter on his arrival with her habitual complaint that " they 
have been so censorious and Lady Teazle as bad as any 
one." The slanderers themselves are taken by surprise, 
and the indignation and horror of the husband know no 
bounds. There is no more successful touch in the whole 
composition. 

Apart from these scenes, the construction of the play 
shows once more Sheridan's astonishing instinct for a 
striking situation. Two such will immediately occur to 
the mind of the reader the great screen scene, and that 
in which Sir Charles Surface sells his family portraits. 
The first is incomparably the greater of the two, and one 
which has rarely been equalled on the stage. The succes- 
sion of interviews, one after another, has not a word too 
much ; nor could the most impatient audience find any 
sameness or repetition in the successive arrivals, each one 
of which adds an embarrassment to the dilemma of Jo- 
seph Surface, and helps to clear up those of his victims. 
As the imbroglio grows before our eyes, and every door of 
escape for the hypocrite is shut up, without even the com- 
mon sentimental error of awakening commiseration for 
him, the most matter-of-fact spectator can scarcely repress, 
even when carried along by the interest of the story, a 
sensation of admiring wonder at the skill with which all 
these combinations are effected. It is less tragic than Tar- 
tuffe, insomuch as Orgon's profound belief, and the darker 
guilt of the domestic traitor, move us more deeply ; and it 



ra.] THE "SCHOOL FOR SCANDAL." 85 

is not terrible, like the unveiling of lago ; "but neither is it 
trivial, as the ordinary discoveries of deceitful wives and 
friends to which we are accustomed on the stage so gener- 
ally are ; and the fine art with which Sir Peter something 
of an old curmudgeon in the earlier scenes is made unex- 
pectedly to reveal his better nature, and thus prepare the 
way, unawares, for the re-establishment of his own happi- 
ness at the moment when it seems entirely shattered, is 
worthy of the highest praise. It would, no doubt, have 
been higher art could the dramatist have deceived his 
audience as well as the personages of the play, and made 
us also parties in the surprise of the discovery. But this is 
what no one has as yet attempted', not even Shakspeare, 
and we have no right to object to Sheridan that we are in 
the secret of Joseph's baseness all the time, just as we are 
in the secret of Tartuffe's, and can with difficulty under- 
stand how it is that he deceives any one. There remains 
for the comedy of the future (or the tragedy, which, wher- 
ever the deeper chords of life are touched, comes to very 
much the same thing) a still greater achievement that of 
inventing an lago who shall deceive the audience as well 
as the Othello upon whom he plays, and be found out 
only by us and our hero at the same moment. Probably, 
could such a thing be done, the effect would be too great, 
and the indignation and horror of the crowd, thus skilfully 
excited, produce a sensation beyond that which is permis- 
sible to fiction. But^ Sheridan does not deal with any 
tragical powers. Nothing deeper is within his reach than 
the momentary touch of real feeling with which Lady 
Teazle vindicates herself, and proves her capacity for bet- 
ter things. x The gradual development of the situation, the 
unwilling agency of the deceiver in opening the eyes and 
touching the heart of the woman he hopes to seduce, ar,<] 



80 RICHARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAN. [CHAP. 

clearing the character of the brother whom he desires to 
incriminate ; the confusion of his mind as one after an- 
other so many dangerous elements come together; the 
chuckling malice of the old man, eager, half to exonerate 
Joseph from the charge of austerity, half to betray his 
secret, little suspecting how nearly his own credit is in- 
volved ; the stupefying dismay of the disclosure are man- 
aged with the most complete success. The scene is in 
itself a succinct drama, quite comprehensible even when 
detached from its context, and of the highest effectiveness. 
So far as morals are concerned, it is as harmless as any 
equivocal situation can be. To be sure, the suggestion of 
the little milliner is no more savoury than the presence of 
Lady Teazle is becoming to her reputation and duty ; but 
the utter confusion of the scheme, and the admirable and 
unexpected turn given to the conclusion by her genuine 
perception of her folly and her husband's merit, go as far 
as is possible to neutralise all that is amiss in it. There 
had been a temporary doubt as to whether the Rivals 
would catch the public fancy : there was none at all about 
this. 

The other great scene, that in which Charles Surface 
sells his pictures, has qualities of a different kind. It is 
less perfect and more suggestive than most of Sheridan's 
work. We have to accept the favourite type of the stage 
hero the reckless, thoughtless, warm-hearted, impression- 
able spendthrift, as willing to give as he is averse to pay, 
scattering his wild oats by handfuls, wasting his life and 
his means in riotous living, yet easily touched and full of 
kind impulses before we can do justice to it. .This char- 
acter, whatever moralists may say, always has, and probably 
always will retain a favoured place in fiction. Though we 
know very well that in real life dissipation does not keep 



ni.] THE "SCHOOL FOR SCANDAL." 87 

the heart soft or promote gratitude and other generous 
sentiments, yet we are still willing to believe that the riot- 
ous youth whose animal spirits carry him away into de- 
vious paths is at bottom better than the demure one who 
keeps his peccadilloes out of sight of the world. The 
eighteenth century had no doubt on the subject. (Charles 
Surface is the light-hearted prodigal whose easy vices have 
brought him to the point of destruction. Whatever grave 
thoughts on the subject he may have within, he is resolute 
in carrying out his gay career to the end, and ready to 
laugh in the face of ruin, t A more severe taste might con- 
sider his light-heartedness swagger and his generosity prod- 
igality ; but we are expected on the stage to consider such 
characteristics as far more frequently conjoined with a 
good heart than sobriety and decency. | The reckless young 
reprobate, at the lowest ebb of his fortune, ready to throw 
away anything or everything, and exposing himself hope- 
lessly and all his follies to the rich uncle who has come to 
test him, conciliates our good opinion from the beginning 
by the real kindness with which he protects " little Pre- 
mium," the supposed money-lender, from the rude pleas- 
antries of his boon companions. The touch of despera- 
tion which is in his gaiety without ever finding expres- 
sion in words enhances the effect of his headlong talk and 
wild wit. When his companion, Careless, to whom it is 
all a good joke, complains, "Charles, I haven't a hammer; 
and what's an auctioneer without a hammer?" the master 
of the ruined house clutches, with a laugh, at the family 
pedigree, firmly and tightly encircling its roller, and throws 
that to him : " Here, Careless, you shall have no 'common 
bit of mahogany ; here's the family tree for you, and you 
may knock down my ancestors with their own pedigree," 
he cries. Such a lau^h raises echoes which we wonder 



88 RICHARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAN. [CHAP. 

whether Sheridan contemplated or had any thought of.J 
As the prodigal rattles on, with almost too much swing 
and " way " upon him in the tragi-comedy of fate, we are 
hurried along in the stream of his wild gaiety with sym- 
pathy which he has no right to. The audience is all on 
his side from the first word. Sir Oliver is a weak-headed 
old gentleman, not at all equal to Sir Peter, and is over- 
come with ludicrous ease and rapidity ; but the obstinacy 
of affectionate gratitude with which the hot-headed young 
fellow holds by the portrait of his benefactor, and the 
fine superiority with which he puts all "little Premium's" 
overtures aside, without putting on any new-born virtue or 
pretensions to amendment, are in their way a masterpiece. 
He pretends no admiration for the distant uncle, but speaks 
of him as freely as of the other sacrificed ancestors. " The 
little ill-looking fellow over the settee" evokes no senti- 
ment from him. He is quite willing to draw a post-obit 
upon Sir Oliver's life, and to jest at him as a little nabob 
with next to no liver. But for all that, a sort of impu- 
dent fidelity, a reckless gratitude, is in the ruined prodi- 
gal. The equally reckless but more composed friend, who 
is ready to abet him in all his folly with the indifference 
of an unconcerned bystander, the wondering contempt of 
the Jew, the concealed and somewhat maudlin emotion of 
the once indignant uncle, surround the figure of the swag- 
gering gallant with the most felicitous background. It is 
far less elaborate and complicated than the companion 
scene, but it is scarcely less successful. 

It is a curious particular in the excellence of the piece, 
however, and scarcely a commendation, we fear, in the 
point of view of art, that these very striking scenes, as well 
as those in which the scandalmongers hold their amusing 
conclave, may all be detached from the setting with the 



m.] THE "SCHOOL FOR SCANDAL." 89 

greatest ease and without any perceptible loss of interest. 
Never was there a drama which it was so easy to take 
to pieces. The screen scene in itself forms, as we have 
already pointed out, a succinct and brilliant little per- 
formance which the simple audience could understand ; 
and though the others might require a word or two of 
preface, they are each sufficiently perfect in themselves to 
admit of separation from the context. It says a great 
deal for the power of the writer that this should be con- 
sistent with the general interest of the comedy, and that 
we are scarcely conscious, in the acting, of the looseness 
with which it hangs together, or the independence of the 
different parts. Sheridan, who was not a playwright by 
science, but rather by accident, did not in all likelihood, 
in the exuberance of his strength, trouble himself with 
any study of the laws that regulate dramatic composition. 
The unities of time and place he preserves, indeed, because 
it suits him to do so ; the incidents of his pieces might all 
happen in a few hours, for anything we know, and with 
singularly little change of scene ; but the close composition 
and interweaving of one part 'with another, which all 
dramatists ought, but so very few do, study, evidently cost 
him little thought. He has the quickest eye for a situa- 
tion, and knows that nothing pleases the playgoing pub- 
lic so much as a strong combination and climax ; but he 
does not take the trouble to rivet the links of his chain or 
fit them very closely into each other. It is a wonderful 
tribute to bis power that, notwithstanding this looseness of 
construction, few people object to allow to the School for 
Scandal the pre-eminence accorded to it by admiring con- 
temporaries as being the best modern English comedy,. 
There is more nature and more story in She Stoops to 
Conquer ; but nothing so brilliant, so incisive, no such 
G 5 32 



SO RICHARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAN. [CHAP. 

concentration of all the forces of art, and nothing like 
the sparkle of the dialogue, the polish and ease of diction. 
Goldsmith's play, though produced only three or four 
years before, is a generation older in atmosphere and sen- 
timent; but it is the only one which has proved a com- 
petitor with Sheridan's great comedy, or that we can com- 
pare with it. To go back to Shakspeare and place these 
brilliant studies of Society in the eighteenth century by 
the side of that radiant world of imagination which took 
refuge in the woods of Arden, or found a place in the en- 
chanted island, would be futile indeed. It would be little 
less foolish than to compare Sheridan's prologues and oc- 
casional verses with the Allegro and the Penseroso. Not 
to that region or near it did he ever reach. It was not 
his to sound the depths of human thought or mount to 
any height of fancy. Rosalind and Prospero were out of 
his reckoning altogether ; but for a lively observation of 
what was going on upon the surface of life, with an oc- 
casional step a little way but only a little way beyond, 
and a fine instinct for the concentration of incident and 
interest which make a striking dramatic scene, nobody 
has excelled him, and very few indeed reach anything like 
the level of his power. 

This play, which the actors had begun to rehearse be- 
fore it was all written, was received by everybody con- 
nected with the theatre with excitement and applause. 
Garrick himself, it is said, attended the rehearsals, and 
" was never known on any former occasion to be more 
anxious for a favourite piece." The old actor threw him- 
self with generous warmth into the interest of the new 
dramatist, upon whom for the moment the glory of Drury 
Lane depended. Moore quotes a note from him which 
proves the active interest he took in the production of the 



m.] THE " SCHOOL FOR SCAXDAL." 91 

new play. " A gentleman who is as mad as himself about 
f e School," he writes, " remarked that the characters upon 
y e stage at y e falling of y e screen stand too long before 
they speak. I thought so too y e first night: he said it 
was y same on y e 2nd, and was remark'd by others : tho' 
they should be astonish'd and a little petrify'd, yet it may 
be carry'd to too great a length." His affectionate inter- 
terest is still further proved by the prologue, in which he 
speaks of Sheridan with a sort of paternal admiration : 

" Is our young bard so young to think that he 
Can stop the full spring-tide of calumny ? 
Knows he the world so little, and its trade ? 
Alas ! the devil's sooner raised than laid. 
So strong, so swift, the monster there's no gagging : 
Cut Scandal's head off, still the tongue is wagging. 
Proud of your smiles, once lavishly bestowed, 
Again our young Don Quixote takes the road ; 
To show his gratitude he draws his pen, 
And seeks the hydra, Scandal, in his den. 
For your applause all perils he would through 
He'll fight that's write a caballero true, 
Till every drop of blood that's ink is spilt for you." 

It is a ludicrous circumstance in the history that an 
attempt was made after Sheridan's death, and by no less 
strange a hand than that of his first biographer, Watkins, 
to question the authorship of the School for Scandal, 
which, according to this absurd story, was the composi- 
tion of an anonymous young lady, who sent it to the 
management of Drnry Lane shortly before her death, an 
event of whicli Sheridan took advantage t^ produce her 
work as his own ! That any reasonable creature could 
be found to give vent to such a ridiculous fiction is an 
evidence of human folly and malignity more remarkable 



92 RICHARD BRIXSLEY SHERIDAN. [CHAP. 

than any in the play, and laughably appropriate as con- 
nected with it as if Sir Benjamin Backbite had risen 
from the grave to avenge himself. 

It is needless to add that the popularity which has 
never failed for more than a century attended the first 
production of the great comedy. It brought back pros- 
perity with a bound to the theatre, which had been strug- 
gling in vain under Sheridan's management against, so to 
speak, Sheridan himself at Covent Garden, in the shape 
of the Rivals and Duenna. Two years after its first pro- 
duction it is noted in the books of the theatre that " the 
School for Scandal damped the new pieces." Nothing 
could stand against it, and the account of the nightly re- 
ceipts shows with what steadiness it continued to fill the 
treasury, which had been sinking to a lower and lower ebb. 

Many attempts were made at the time, and have been 
made since, to show how and from whom Sheridan de- 
rived his ideas : a more justifiable appropriation than that 
of the play entire, though perhaps a still more disagree- 
able imputation, since many who would not give credit to 
the suggestion of a literary crime and wholesome rob- 
bery would not hesitate to believe the lesser accusation. 
Plagiarism is vile, and everywhere to be condemned ; but 
it is an easy exercise of the critical faculty, and one in 
which, in all generations, some of the smaller professors of 
the craft find a congenial field of labour, to ferret out re- 
semblances in imaginative compositions, which are as nat- 
ural as the resemblances between members of the same 
race, were it not for the invidious suggestion that the one 
is a theft from the other. It would be nearly as reason- 
able to say that the family air and features of a noble 
house were stolen from the ancestors of the same. It is 
suggested accordingly that Joseph and Charles Surface 



in.] THE "SCHOOL FOR SCANDAL." 93 

came from Tom Jones and Blifil; that Mrs. Malaprop was 
perhaps Mrs. Slip-slop, or perhaps a sort of hash of Miss 
Tabitha Bramble and her waiting - maid ; and even that 
the amusing meetings of the School for Scandal were a 
reflection from the Misanthrope. There will always be 
some who will take a pleasure in depreciating the origi- 
nality of an author in this way ; but it is scarcely necessary, 
now that Sheridan himself has become a classic, to take 
any trouble in pointing out the pettiness of such criticism, 
so far as he is concerned. Like Moliere, he took his own 
where he found it, with an inalienable right to do so which 
no reasonable and competent literary tribunal would ever 
deny. The process by which one idea strikes fire upon 
another and helps to hand the light of imagination along 
the line, is a natural and noble one, honourable to every 
mind which has to do with it, and as unlike the baseness 
of literary robbery or imitation as any natural growth and 
evolution can be. It is, indeed, one of the finest offices of 
the poet to awaken smouldering thoughts in other intel- 
ligences, and strike off into the darkness as many varied 
scintillations of kindred light as the race can produce. A 
curious instance of the ease with which accusations of this 
sort are made, as well as of how a small slander will ex- 
tend and spread, is to be found, of all places in the world, 
in the record made by Samuel Rogers of the conversa- 
tions of Charles James Fox. Sheridan, among other ap- 
propriations, had been supposed to take the idea of Sir 
Oliver's return from his own mother's novel of Sidney 
Biddulph. He might for that matter have taken it from 
a hundred novels, since no incident was more hackneyed. 
" Thought Sidney Biddulph one of the best novels of the 
age," Rogers reports Fox to have said. " Sheridan denied 
having read it, though the plot of his School for Scandal 



4 RICHARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAN. [CHAP. 

was borrowed from it." Sir Peter Teazle's ball, which, 
after missing Charles Surface, "struck against a little 
bronze Shakspeare that stood over the fireplace, glanced 
out of the window at a right angle, and wounded the 
postman who was just coming to the door with a double 
letter from Northamptonshire," was scarcely a more suc- 
cessful example of the amplification of report than this. 
It is not to be supposed that Fox meant any harm to his 
friend and sometime colleague ; but the expansion of the 
original statement, that the idea of the Indian uncle's re- 
turn came from this source, to the bold assertion that the 
plot of the School for Scandal was borrowed from it, is 
worthy of Lady Sneerwell herself. 

The play was not published in any authorised edition 
during Sheridan's lifetime, probably because it was more 
to his profit, according to theatrical regulations, that it 
should not be so though Sheridan's grand statement that 
he had been " nineteen years endeavouring to satisfy him- 
self with the style of the School for Scandal, and had 
not succeeded," may be taken as the reason if the reader 
chooses. He was sufficiently dilatory and fastidious to 
have made that possible. It was, however, printed in Dub- 
lin (which was the great seat of literary piracy before the 
Union, when it shifted farther west), from a copy which 
Sheridan had sent to his sister, Mrs. Lefanu, " to be dis- 
posed of for her own advantage to the manager of the 
Dublin theatre." Almost immediately after its produc- 
tion several of the scenes were "adapted" and acted in 
France ; and it has since been printed, not only in innu- 
merable editions in England, but translated into every 
European language. Nor is there, we may say, any new 
play, unattended by special stimulation of adventitious in- 
terest, which is still so certain of securing " a good house.'* 



m.] " THE CRITIC." 95 

In the same year in which this masterpiece came into 
being, and moved by the same necessities, Sheridan pro- 
duced the last of his dramatic compositions a work 
which has, perhaps, occasioned more innocent amusement 
and cordial laughter than any other of the kind in the 
language, and has furnished us with more allusions and 
illustrations than anything else out of Shakspeare. The 
Critic is, of all Sheridan's plays, the one which has least 
claim to originality. Although it is no copy, nor can be 
accused of plagiarism, it is the climax of a series of at- 
tempts descending downwards from the Elizabethan era, 
when the Knight of the Burning Pestle was performed 
amid the running commentaries of the homely critics; 
and it could scarcely have died out of the recollection of 
Sheridan's audience that Fielding had over and over again 
made the same attempt in the previous generation. But 
what his predecessors had tried with different degrees of 
success or failure Sheridan accomplished triumphantly. 
The humours of the Rehearsal, still sufficiently novel to 
himself to retain all their whimsical originality, he alone 
had the power so to set upon the stage that all that is 
ludicrous in dramatic representation is brought before us 
but with so much dramatic success that the criticism 
becomes only a more subtle kind of applause, and in the 
act of making the theatre ridiculous he makes it doubly 
attractive. This amusing paradox is carried out with 
the utmost skill and boldness. In the School for Scan- 
dal Sheridan had held his audience in delighted suspense 
in scene after scene which had merely the faintest link 
of connexion with the plot of his play, and did little more 
than interrupt its action. But in the new work he held 
the stage for nearly half the progress of the piece by the 
mere power of pointed and pungent remarks, the keen 



96 RICHARD BRIXSLEY SHERIDAN. [CHAP. 

interchanges of witty talk, the personality of three or 
four individuals not sufficiently developed to be consid- 
ered as impersonations of character, and with nothing to 
do but to deliver their comments upon matters of literary 
interest. Rarely has a greater feat been performed on 
the stage. We are told that Sir Fretful Plagiary was in- 
tended for Cumberland, that Dangle meant somebody else, 
and that this it was that gave the chief interest to the first 
portion of the play. But what did the multitude care 
about Cumberland? Should it occur to any clever play- 
wright of our day to produce upon the stage a caricature 
of one of our poets we humbly thank Heaven, much great- 
er personages than Cumberland a cultivated audience for 
the first two or three nights might enjoy the travesty. But 
London, on the whole, when it had once gazed at the imi- 
tated great man, would turn away without an attempt to 
suppress the yawn which displayed its indifference. No 
popular audience anywhere would be moved by such an ex- 
pedient and only a popular audience can secure the suc- 
cess of a play. It was not Cumberland : it was not the the- 
atrical enthusiast represented by Dangle. Nothing can be 
more evanescent than successes produced by such means. 
And this was a vigorous and healthy success, not an affair 
of the coteries. It is all the more astonishing because the 
play on words is somewhat elaborate, the speeches in many 
cases long-winded, and the subjects discussed of no general 
human interest Indeed, Mr. Puff's elaborate description 
of puffing, when subjected to the test of reading, is, it must 
be confessed, a little tedious : which is, of all the sins of 
the stage, the most unpardonable. Supposing any young 
dramatist of the present day to carry such a piece to a 
stage manager, we can imagine the consternation with 
which his proposal would be received. What ! take up 



m.] "THE CRITIC." 97 

the time of the public with a discussion of literary squab- 
bles, and the passion of an irate author attacked by the 
press ! expect the world to be amused by the presentation 
upon the stage even of the most caustic of Saturday Re- 
viewers, the sharpest operator of the nineteenth century, 
although in the very act of baiting a playwright ! The 
young experimentalist would be shown to the door with 
the utmost celerity. His manuscript would not even be 
unrolled in all probability his theatrical friend would 
read him a lecture upon his utter misconception of the 
purposes of the stage. " My dear sir," we can imagine 
him saying, with that mixture of blandness and impatience 
with which a practical man encounters an idealist, " there 
cannot be a greater mistake than to suppose that the world 
cares for what literary persons say of each other. Your 
testy old gentleman might be bearable if he had a daugh- 
ter to marry, or a son to disinherit; but all this noise and 
fury about a review ! Tut ! the audience would be bored 
to death." And so any sensible adviser would say. Yet 
Sir Fretful, between his two tormentors, and the cheerful 
bustle and assured confidence of Mr. Puff, have held their 
ground when hundreds of sensational dramas have drooped 
and died. Never was a more wonderful literary feat. The 
art of puffing has been carried to a perfection unsuspected 
by Mr. Puff, and not one person in a thousand has the 
most remote idea who Cumberland was ; but The Critic is 
as delightful as ever, and we listen to the gentlemen talk- 
ing with as much relish as our grandfathers did. Nay, the 
simplest-minded audience, innocent of literature, and per- 
haps not very sure what it all means, will still answer to 
the touch and laugh till they cry over the poor author's 
wounded vanity and the woes of Tilburina. Shakspeare, 
it is evident, found the machinery cumbrous, and gave up 
5* 



98 RICHARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAN. [CHAP. 

the idea of making Sly and his mockers watch the progress 
of the Taming of the Shrew; and Beaumont and Fletcher 
lose our interest altogether in their long-drawn-out by-play, 
though the first idea of it is comical in the highest degree. 
Nor could Fielding keep the stage with his oft-repeated 
efforts, notwithstanding the wit and point of many of his 
dialogues. But Sheridan at last, after so many attempts, 
found out the right vein. It is evident by the essays 
made in his own boyhood that the subject had attracted 
him from a very early period. His lively satire, keen as 
lightning, but harmless as the flashing of the summer 
storm which has no thunder in it, finds out every crevice 
in the theatrical mail. When he has turned the author 
outside in, and exposed all his little weaknesses (not with- 
out a sharper touch here, for it is Mr. Puff, the inventor of 
the art of advertising as it was in those undeveloped days, 
and not any better man, who fills the place of the success- 
ful dramatist), he turns to the play itself with the same 
delightful perception of its absurdities. The bits of dia- 
logue which are interposed sparkle like diamonds : 

" Sneer. Pray, Mr. Puff, how came Sir Christopher Hatton never to 
ask that question before ? 

" Puff. What, before the play began ? How the plague could he ? 
"Dangle. That's true, i'faith !" 

And again : 

" Dangle. Mr. Puff, as he knows all this, why does Sir Walter go 
on telling him ? 

"Puff. But the audience are not supposed to know anything of 
the matter, are they ? 

"Sneer. True; but I think you manage ill; for there certainly 
appears no reason why Sir Walter should be so communicative. 

" Puff. Tore Gad, now, that is one of the most ungrateful obser- 



in.] "THE CRITIC." 99 

vations I ever heard ! for the less inducement he has to tell all this, 
the more I think you ought to be obliged to him, for I'm sure you'd 
know nothing of the matter without it. 

" Dangle. That's very true, upon my word." 

In these interpolations every word tells; but there is 
no malice in the laughing champion who strikes so full 
in the centre of the shield, and gets such irresistible fool- 
ing out of the difficulties of his own art. It is amus- 
ing to remember though Leigh Hunt, in his somewhat 
shrill and bitter sketch of Sheridan, points it out with 
unfriendly zeal that the sentimental dreams which he 
afterwards prepared for the stage were of the very order 
which he here exposed to the laughter of the world. " It 
is observable, and not a little edifying to observe," says 
this critic, " that when those who excel in a spirit of satire 
above everything else come to attempt serious specimens 
of the poetry and romance whose exaggerations they ridi- 
cule, they make ridiculous mistakes of their own, and of 
the very same kind : so allied is habitual want of faith 
with want of all higher power. The style of the Stranger 
is poor and pick-thank enough ; but Pizarro in its highest 
flights is downright booth at a fair a tall, spouting gentle- 
man in tinsel." The words in italics are worthy of Joseph 
Surface. But the more sympathetic reader will be glad to 
remember that Pizarro has passed out of the recollection 
of the world so completely that no one but a biographer 
or unfriendly critic would ever think nowadays of associat- 
ing it with Sheridan's name. " Serious specimens of poetry 
and romance" were entirely out of his way. The most 
extravagant of his admirers has never claimed for him 
any kindred with the Shakspearian largeness which makes 
Lear and Touchstone members of the same vast family. 
That Sheridan himself, when driven to it, fell into the 



100 RICHARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAN. [CHAP. 

lowest depths of dramatic bathos need not injure our ap- 
preciation of his delightful and light-hearted mockery and 
exposure of all its false effects. In The Critic he is at the 
height of his powers ; his keen sense of the ridiculous 
might have, though we do not claim it for him, a moral 
aim, and be directed to the reformation of the theatre ; 
but his first inspiration came from his own enjoyment of 
the humours of the stage and perception of its whimsical 
incongruities. No doubt, however, he was weighed down 
by the preposterous dramas which were submitted to him 
for the use of the company at Drury Lane when he broke 
forth into this brilliant piece of fun and mockery. It 
afforded a most useful lesson to the dramatical writers 
then abusing their prerogative and filling the stage with 
bathos and highflown folly ; and there is no reason why 
we should refuse to Sheridan the credit of a good purpose, 
as well as of a most amusing and in no way ill-natured 
extravaganza, admirably true, so far as it goes, and skim- 
ming the surface of society and of some developments of 
human nature with an unerring hand. 

Another of the many strange anecdotes told of Sher- 
idan's dilatoriness and headlong race against time at the 
end is connected with the composition of The Critic. It 
is perfectly in keeping with his character, but it must not 
be forgotten that it was his policy to suffer such tales to 
be current, and even to give them a certain amount of 
justification. The Critic was announced and talked of 
long before its completion, nay, before it was begun not 
a singular event, perhaps, in dramatic experience. It was 
then sent to the theatre in detached scenes, as had been 
the case with the School for Scandal. Finally a definite 
date was fixed for its appearance the 30th of October; 
but when the 26th had arrived the work, to the despair 



MI.J THE CRITIC." . 101 

of everybody connected with the theatre, was still incom- 
plete. 

We quote from Sheridaniana, an anonymous publica- 
tion, intended to make up the deficiencies of Moore's life, 
the following account of the amusing expedient by which 
the conclusion was accomplished : 

" Dr. Ford and Mr. Linley, the joint proprietors, began to get ner- 
vous and uneasy, and the actors were absolutely au desespoir, espe- 
cially King, who was not only stage-manager, but had to play Puff. 
To him was assigned the duty of hunting down and worrying Sher- 
idan about the last scene. Day after day passed, until the last day 
but two arrived, and still it did not make its appearance. At last Mr. 
Linley, who, being his father-m-law, was pretty well aware of his 
habits, hit upon a stratagem. A night rehearsal of The Critic was 
ordered, and Sheridan, having dined with Linley, was prevailed to go. 
When they were on the stage King whispered to Sheridan that he 
had something particular to communicate, and begged he would step 
into the second greenroom. Accordingly Sheridan went, and found 
there a table, with pens, ink, and paper, a good fire, an arm-chair at 
the table, and two bottles of claret, with a dish of anchovy sand- 
wiches. The moment he got into the room King stepped out and 
locked the door; immediately after which Linley and Ford came up 
and told the author that until he had written the scene he would be 
kept where he was. Sheridan took this decided measure in good 
part : he ate the anchovies, finished the claret, wrote the scene, and 
laughed heartily at the ingenuity of the contrivance." 

We have the less compunction in quoting an anecdote, 
vouched for only by anonymous witnesses, that there can 
be little doubt it was a kind of story which Sheridan 
would have given no contradiction to. The dash of sud- 
den creation making up for long neglect of duty was the 
conventional mode of procedure for such a man. To dis- 
cuss the immorality of such a mode of action would be 
altogether out of place here. Every evasion of duty is 



102 RICHARD BHINSLEY SHERIDAN. [CHAP. 

due to some sort of selfishness ; but the world has always 
been indulgent (up to a certain point) of the indolent and 
vagrant character which is conjoined with a capacity for 
great work in an emergency, and, so long as the thing is 
done, and done with such brilliancy at last, will condone 
any irregularity in the doing of it. 

The result, it is said, of The Critic was immediately 
apparent. For some time after its production the old type 
of tragedy became impossible, at least at Drury Lane. 
Dramas in which " the heroine was found to be forestalled 
by Tilburina" could not be any great loss to the stage; 
and it is amusing to realise the aspect of an audience fresh 
from The Critic, when such a tragedy was placed on the 
boards, while the spectators vainly struggled to shut out 
a recollection of the Governor opposing his honour to all 
the seductions of his daughter, or Whiskerandos refusing 
to die again on any entreaty, from their minds. It was 
little wonder if all the craft were furious, and the authors 
whose productions were chased by laughter from the 
stage could not find any abuse bitter enough for Sher- 
idan. 

There was, unfortunately, very good cause for complaint 
on other grounds. To speak of his habits of business as 
being bad would be absurd, for he had no business habits 
at all. His management of the theatre when it fell into 
his hands was as discreditable as could be. He allowed 
everything to go to confusion, and letters and the manu- 
scripts submitted to him, and every application relating to 
the theatre, to accumulate, till even the cheques for which 
he sent to his treasury, and which he had a thousand uses 
for, were confounded in the general heap and lost to him, 
till some recurring incident or importunate applicant made 
an examination of these stores a necessity. It is some- 



ni.] "THE CRITIC." 103 

what difficult to make out how far and how long, or if 
ever, he was himself responsible for the stage-management ; 
but all the business of the theatre went to confusion in his 
hands, and it would appear that at first at least the com- 
pany took example by the disorderly behaviour of their 
head. Garrick, who had hoped so highly from the new 
proprietor and done so much for him, had to apologise as 
he could for a state of things which looked like chaos 
come again. "Everybody is raving against Sheridan for 
his supineness," cries one of Garrick's correspondents ; and 
the unfortunate Hopkins, the prompter, whose "Amen!" 
upon the end of the manuscript we have described, affords 
us a picture of the kingdom of misrule which existed at 
Drury Lane which is pitiful enough : 

"We played last night Much Ado About Nothing" [writes this 
martyr], " and had to make an apology for the three principal parts. 
About twelve o'clock Mr. Henderson sent word that he was not able 
to play. We got Mr. Louis, from Covent Garden, who supplied the 
part of Benedick. Soon after Mr. Parsons sent word he could not 
play. Mr. Moody supplied the part of Dogberry ; and about four in 
the afternoon Mr. Vernon sent word he could not play. Mr. Mattock 
supplied his part of Balthazar. I thought myself very happy in get- 
ting these wide gaps so well stopped. In the middle of the first act 
a message was brought to me that Mr. Lamash, who was to play the 
part of Borachio, was not come to the house. I had nobody then 
who could go on for it, so I was obliged to cut two scenes in the first 
and second act entirely out, and get Mr. Wrighton to go on for the 
piece. At length we got the play over without the audience finding 
it out. We had a very bad house. Mr. Parsons is not abl to play 
in the School for Scandal to-morrow night : do not know how we 
shall be able to settle that. I hope the pantomime may prove suc- 
cessful, and release us from this dreadful situation." 

This was the condition into which the orderly and well- 
governed theatre had fallen soon after Garrick resigned 



104 RICHARD BRIXSLEY SHERIDAN. [CHAP. 

into Sheridan's younger and, as he hoped, better hands 
the young Hercules who was to succeed old Atlas in car- 
rying the weight of the great undertaking on his shoul- 
ders, his kingdom and authority. The receipts, that infal- 
lible thermometer of theatrical success, soon began to fail, 
and everything threatened destruction, which was averted 
violently by the production one after the other of Sher- 
idan's two plays, only to fall back into wilder chaos after- 
wards. For some part of this time the elder Sheridan 
who, after their reconciliation, had engaged with his son 
us one of the members of the company was stage-mana- 
ger. It is pleasant to see the claims of nature thus ac- 
knowledged, and to have this practical proof that Sher- 
idan still believed in his father's talents and capabilities; 
but it does not seem to have been a fortunate attempt 
Thomas Sheridan is said to have been as harsh as his son 
was easy and disorderly. His highest effort in his profes- 
sion had been made in the hope of rivalling the great 
actor, with whose name and fame and all the traditions of 
fais method Drury Lane was filled. He was an elocution- 
ist, ;md believed salvation to depend upon a certain meas- 
are of delivery which he had himself invented and per- 
fected, and concerning which he was at once an enthusiast 
and a pedant. To introduce such a man to the little 
despotism of a theatre, and set him over the members of 
an opposite faction in his art, was, even when tempered by 
the mildness of Linley, a desperate expedient, and his reign 
did not last very long. Whether it returned to Sheridan's 
own shiftless hands before a more competent bead was 
found it is difficult to make out ; but at all events it was 
long enough under his disorderly sway to turn everything 
upside down. The ridiculous story referred to above 
about the authorship of the School for Scandal was sup- 



IIL] "THE CRITIC." 105 

ported by the complaints of authors whose manuscript 
dramas had never been returned to them, and to whom it 
was easy to say that Sheridan had stolen their best ideas 
and made use of them as his own. A portion of one of 
the first scenes in The Critic, which is now out of date, 
and which, indeed, many people may read without any 
real understanding of what it refers to, makes special refer- 
ence to complaints and animadversions of this kind. Sir 
Fretful announces that he has sent his play to Covent 
Garden : 

" Sneer. I should have thought, now, it would have been better 
cast (as the actors call it) at Drury Lane. 

"Sir Fret. Oh lud, no! never send a play there while I live. 
Hark'ye [whispers Sneer]. 

"Sneer. Writes himself ! I know he does 

" Sir Fret. I say nothing. I take away from no man's merit, am 
hurt at no man's good-fortune. I say nothing. But this I will say : 
through all my knowledge of life I have observed that there is not a 
passion so strongly rooted in the human heart as envy. 

" Sneer. I believe you have reason for what you say, indeed. 

" Sir Fret. Besides I can tell you it is not always safe to leave a 
play in the hands of those who write themselves. 

"Sneer. What ! they may steal from them, my dear Plagiary ? 

" Sir Fret. Steal ! to be sure they may ; and, egad ! serve your best 
thoughts as gipsies do stolen children, disfigure them to make them 
pass for their own 

"Sneer. But your present work is a sacrifice to Melpomene, and 
he, you know 

" Sir Fret. That's no security : a dexterous plagiarist may do any- 
thing. Why, sir, for aught I know, he might take out some of the 
best things in my tragedy and put them into his own comedy." 

Thus it is apparent Sheridan himself was perfectly con- 
scious of the things that were said about him. He gave 
no contradiction, it is said, to the absurd story about 

the School for Scandac how should he ? To such an 
H 33 



106 RICHARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAN. [CHAP. 

extraordinary accusation a contemptuous silence was the 
best answer. But it is with an easy good-humour, a laugh 
of the most cheerful mockery, that he confronts the bit- 
ter gossip which suggests the unsafeness of leaving manu- 
scripts in his hands. He was not himself ashamed of 
his sins in this respect. His bag of letters all jumbled 
together, his table covered with papers, the suitors who 
waited in vain for a hearing, the business that was done 
by fits and starts in the interval of his other engagements 
all this did not affect his conscience. Cumberland, as 
if to prove his identity with Sheridan's sketch, describes 
in a letter to Garrick the ways of the new manager ; and 
the reader will see by this brief paragraph how like was 
the portrait " I read," said the dramatist, " the tragedy 
in the ears of the performers on Friday morning. I was 
highly flattered by the audience, but your successor in the 
management is not a representative of your polite atten- 
tion to authors on such occasions, for he came in yawning 
at the fifth act with no other apology than having sat up 
two nights running. It gave me not the slightest offence, 
as I put it all to the habit of dissipation and indolence ; 
but I fear his office will suffer from want of due atten- 
tion," Sir Fretful adds. 

This was within a few years of Sheridan's entry upon 
the property and responsibility of the theatre. All that 
he possessed which means all that he had by miraculous 
luck and by mysterious means, which no one has ever 
been able to fathom, scraped together was embarked in 
it. It had enabled him to enter at once upon a way of 
living and into a sphere of society in which the son of the 
needy player and lecturer, the idle youth of Bath, without 
a profession or a penny the rash lover who had married 
without the most distant prospect of being able to main- 



ni.] "THE CRITIC." 107 

tain his wife, yet haughtily forbidden her to exercise her 
profession and maintain him could never have expected 
to find himself. If ever man had an inducement to de- 
vote himself to the cultivation of the extraordinary oppor- 
tunities which had been thus given to him, it was he. 
But he had never been trained to devote himself to any- 
thing, and the prodigality of good -fortune which had 
fallen upon him turned his head, and made him believe, 
no doubt, that everything was to be as easy as the begin- 
ning. Garrick had made a great fortune from the the- 
atre, and there was every reason to suspect that Sheridan, 
so easily proved the most successful dramatist of his day, 
might do still more. But Sheridan, alas ! had none of 
the qualities which were requisite for this achievement ; 
even in composition he had soon reached the length of 
his tether. Twice he was able to make up brilliantly by 
an almost momentary effort for the bad effects of his care- 
lessness in every practical way. But it is not possible for 
any man to go on doing this for ever, and the limit of 
his powers was very soon reached. If he had kept to hi* 
own easy trade and sphere, and refrained from public life 
and all its absorbing cares, would he have continued peri- 
odically to re-make his own fortune and that of the the- 
atre by a new play? Who can tell? It is always open 
to the spectator to believe that such might have been the 
case, and that Sheridan, put into harness like a few greater 
spirits, might have maintained an endless stream of pro- 
duction, as Shakspeare did. But there are indications of 
another kind which may lead critics to decide differently. 
Sheridan's view of life was not a profound one. It was 
but a vulgar sort of drama, a problem without any depths 
to be solved by plenty of money and wine and pleasure, 
by youth and high spirits, and an easy lavishness which 



108 RICHARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAN. [CHAP. 

was called liberality, or even generosity as occasion served. 
But to Sheridan there was nothing to find out in it, any 
more than there is anything to find out in the characters of 
his plays. He had nothing to say further. Lady Teazle's 
easy penitence, her husband's pardon, achieved by the ele- 
gant turn of her head seen through the open door, and the 
entry of Charles Surface into all the good things of this 
life, in recompense for an insolent sort of condescending 
gratitude to his egotistical old uncle, were all he knew on 
this great subject. And when that was said he had turned 
round upon the stage, the audience, the actors, and the 
writers who catered for them, and made fun of them all 
with the broadest mirth, and easy indifference to what 
might come after. What was there more for him to say ? 
The Critic, so far as the impulse of creative energy, or 
what, for want of a better word, we call genius, was con- 
cerned, was Sheridan's last word. 

It was during this period of lawlessness and misrule 
at Drury, while either Sheridan himself or his father 
was holding the sceptre of unreason there, that Garrick 
died. He had retired from the theatre only a few years 
before, and had watched it with anxious interest ever 
since, no doubt deeply disappointed by the failure of 
the hopes which he had founded upon the new pro- 
prietorship and the brilliant young substitute whom 
he had helped to put into his own place. Sheridan fol- 
lowed him to the grave as chief mourner and his impres- 
sionable nature being strongly touched by the death of 
the man who had been so good to him, shut himself up 
for a day or two, and wrote a monody to Garrick's mem- 
ory, which met with much applause in its day. It was 
seemly that some tribute should be paid to the great 
actor's name in the theatre of which he had for so long 



in.] "THE CRITIC." 109 

been the life and soul, though Sheridan's production of 
his own poem at the end of the play which was then run* 
n ing, as an independent performance and sacrifice to the 
manes of his predecessor, was a novelty on the stage. It 
was partly said and partly sung, and must have been on 
the whole a curious interlude in its solemnity amid the 
bustle and animation of the evening's performance. As a 
poem it is not remarkable, but it is the most considerable 
of Sheridan's productions in that way. The most charac- 
teristic point in it is the complaint of the evanescence of 
an actor's fame and reputation, which was very appropriate 
to the moment, though perhaps too solemn for the occa- 
sion. After recording the honours paid to the poet and 
painter, he contrasts their lasting fame with the temporary 
reputation of the heroes of the stage : 

" The actor only shrinks from time's award ; 
Feeble tradition is his mem'ry's guard ; 
By whose faint breath his merits must abide, 
Unvouch'd by proof to substance unallied ! 
E'en matchless Garrick's art to heaven resign'd, 
No fix'd effect, no model leaves behind ! 
The grace of action, the adapted mien, 
Faithful as nature to the varied scene ; 
The expressive glance whose subtle comment draws 
Entranced attention and a mute applause ; 
Gesture which marks, with force and feeling fraught, 
A sense in silence and a will in thought ; 
Harmonious speech whose pure and liquid tone 
Gives verse a music scarce confess'd its own. 



All perishable ! like th' electric fire, 

But strike the frame and as they strike expire ; 

Incense too pure a bodied flame to bear, 

Its fragrance charms the sense and blends with air. 



110 RICHARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAN. [CHAP. 

Where, then while sunk in cold decay he lies, 

And pale eclipse for ever seals those eyes 

Where is the blest memorial that ensures 

Our Garrick's fame ? Whose is the trust ? 'tis yours !" 

No one would grudge Garrick all the honour that could 
be paid him on the stage where he had been so important 
a figure. But that the fame of the actor should be like 
incense which melts in the air and dies is very natural, 
notwithstanding Sheridan's protest. The poetry which 
inspires him is not his, nor the sentiments to which he 
gives expression. He is but an interpreter; he has no 
claim of originality upon our admiration. But Garrick, 
if any man, has had a reputation of the permanent kind. 
His name is as well known as that of Pope or Samuel 
Johnson. His generation, and the many notable persons 
in it, gave him a sort of worship in his day. He was 
buried in Westminster Abbey, his pall borne by noble 
peers, thirty-four mourning coaches in all the panoply of 
woe following, " while the streets were lined with groups 
of spectators falling in with the train as it reached the 
Abbey." And up to this day we have not forgotten Gar- 
rick. He died in 1779, just four years after the beginning 
of Sheridan's connection with the theatre. The Monody 
came in between the School for Scandal and The Critic, 
the keenest satire and laughter alternating with the dirge, 
which, however, was only permitted for a few nights the 
audience in general have something else to do than to 
amuse itself by weeping over the lost. 

It must have been shortly after this solemn perform- 
ance that the theatre found a more suitable manager in 
the person of King, the actor ; and though Sheridan never 
ceased to harass and drain it, yet the business of every 
day began to go on in a more regular manner. His father 



in.] "THE CRITIC." Ill 

retired from the head of affairs, and he had, fortunately, 
too much to do cultivating pleasure and society to attempt 
this additional work even with the assistance of his Bet- 
sey, who seems to have done him faithful service through 
all these early years. He was still but twenty-nine when 
his growing acquaintance with statesmen and interest in 
political affairs opened to the brilliant young man, whom 
everybody admired, the portals or a more important 
world. 



CHAPTER IV. 

PUBLIC LIFE. 

WHILE Sheridan was completing his brief career in lit- 
erature, and bringing fortune and fame to one theatre after 
another by the short series of plays, each an essay of a 
distinct kind in dramatic composition, which we have dis- 
cussed, his position had been gradually changing. It had 
been from the beginning, according to all rules of reason, a 
perfectly untenable position. When he established himself 
in London with his beautiful young wife they had neither 
means nor prospects to justify the life which they imme- 
diately began to lead, making their house, which had no 
feasible means of support, into a sort of little social centre, 
and collecting about it a crowd of acquaintances, much 
better off than they, out of that indefinite mass of society 
which is always ready to go where good talk and good 
music are to be had, to amuse themselves at the cost of the 
rash entertainers, who probably believe they are " making 
friends " when they expend all their best gifts upon an 
unscrupulous, though fashionable, mob. Nothing could 
be more unwarrantable than this outset upon an existence 
which was serious to neither of them, and in which wit 
and song were made the servants of a vague and shifting 
public which took everything and gave nothing. Society 
(in words) judges leniently the foolish victims who thus 



iv.] PUBLIC LIFE. 113 

immolate themselves for its pleasure, giving them credit for 
generosity and other liberal virtues ; but it is to be feared 
that the excitement of high animal spirits, and the love of 
commotion and applause, have more to do with their folly 
than kindness for their fellow-creatures. The two young 
Sheridans had both been brought up in an atmosphere of 
publicity, and to both of them an admiring audience was a 
sort of necessity of nature. And it is so easy to believe, 
and far easier then than now, that to " make good friends" 
is to make your fortune. Sheridan was more fortunate 
than it is good for our moral to admit any man to be. 
His rashness, joined to his brilliant social qualities, seemed 
at first even before dramatic fame came in to make assur- 
ance sure likely to attain the reward for which he hoped, 
and to bring the world to his feet. But such success, if 
for the moment both brilliant and sweet, has a Nemesis 
from whose clutches few escape. 

It is evident that there were some connections of his 
boyish days, Harrow schoolfellows, who had not forgotten 
him, or were ready enough to resume old acquaintance 
and gay companions of the holiday period of Bath, among 
whom was no less a person than Windham who helped 
him to the friendship of others still more desirable. Lord 
John Townshend, one of these early friends, brought him 
acquainted with the most intimate and distinguished of 
his after-associates the leader with whom the most im- 
portant part of his life was identified. It was thus that 
he formed the friendship of Fox : 

" I made [Townshend writes] the first dinner-party at which they 
met, having told Fox that all the notions he might have conceived 
of Sheridan's talents and genius from the comedy of The Rivals, etc., 
would fall infinitely short of the admiration of his astonishing pow- 
ers which I was sure he would entertain at the first interview. The 
6 



114 RICHARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAN. [CIIAP, 

first interview between them there were very few present, only 
Tickell and myself, and one or two more I shall never forget. Fox 
told me after breaking up from dinner that he always thought Hare, 
after my uncle, Charles Townshend, the wittiest man he ever met 
with, but that Sheridan surpassed them both infinitely ; and Sher- 
idan told me next day that he was quite lost in admiration of Fox, 
and that it was a puzzle to him to say what he admired most, his 
commanding superiority of talent and universal knowledge, or his 
playful fancy, artless manners, and benevolence of heart, which 
showed itself in every word he uttered." 

At very nearly the same time Sheridan became ac- 
quainted with Burke. Dr. Johnson himself, it is said, pro- 
posed him as a member of the Literary Club, and his 
friendship and connection with Garrick must have intro- 
duced him widely among the people whom it is distinction 
to know. " An evening at Sheridan's is worth a week's 
waiting for," Fox is reported to have said. The brilliant 
young man with his lovely wife was such a representative 
of genius as might have dazzled the wisest. He had al- 
ready made the most brilliant beginning, and who could 
tell what he might live to do, with the world still before 
him, vigorous health and undaunted spirits, and all the 
charm of personal fascination to enhance those undeniable 
powers which must have appeared far greater then, in the 
glow of expectation, and lustre of all they were yet to do, 
than we know them now to have been? And when he 
stepped at once from the life, without any visible means, 
which he had been living, to the position of proprietor of 
Drury Lane, with an established occupation and the pros- 
pect of certain fortune, there seemed nothing beyond his 
legitimate ambition, as there was nothing beyond his lux- 
ury and hospitality, and lavish enjoyment. Social success 
so great and rapid is always rare, and the contrast between 
the former life of the poor player's penniless son, walking 



iv.] PUBLIC LIFE. 115 

the streets of Bath in idleness, without a sixpence in his 
pocket, and that of the distinguished young dramatist on 
the edge of public life, making a close alliance with two 
of the first statesmen of the day, invited everywhere, 
courted everywhere, must have been overwhelming. If 
his head had been turned by it, and the head of his Eliza 
(or his Betsey, as he calls her, with magnanimous disdain 
of finery), who could have been surprised? That his 
foundations were altogether insecure, and the whole fabric 
dangerous and apt to topple over like a house of cards, 
was not an idea which, in the excitement of early tri- 
umph, he was likely to dwell upon. 

He had, as is evident from the scattered fragments 
which Moore has been careful to gather up, a fancy for 
politics and discussion of public matters at an early period, 
and intended to have collected and published various essays 
on such subjects shortly after his marriage. At least, it is 
supposed that the solemn announcement made to Linley 
of " a book " on which he had been " very seriously at 
work," which he was just then sending to the press, " and 
which I think will do me some credit, if it leads to noth- 
ing else," must have meant a collection of these papers. 
Nothing more was ever heard of it, so far as appears ; but 
they were found by his biographer among the chaos of 
scraps and uncompleted work through which he had to 
wade. Among these, Moore says, " are a few political let- 
ters, evidently designed for the newspapers, some of them 
but half copied out, and probably never sent, . . ." and 
"some commencements of periodical papers under various 
names, The Dictator, The Dramatic Censor, etc., none of 
them apparently carried beyond the middle of the first 
number ;" among which, oddly enough a strange subject 
for Captain Absolute to take in hand " is a letter to the 



116 RICHARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAN. [CHAP. 

Queen recommending the establishment of an institution 
for the instruction aud maintenance of young females in 
the better classes of life, who, from either the loss of their 
parents or poverty, are without the means of being brought 
up suitably to their station," to be founded on the model 
of St. Cyr, placed under the patronage of her Majesty, 
and entitled " The Royal Sanctuary." This fine scheme 
is supported by eloquence thoroughly appropriate at once 
to the subject in such hands, and to the age of the writer. 
" The dispute about the proper sphere of women is idle," 
he says. " That men should have attempted to draw a line 
for their orbit shows that God meant them for comets, 
and above our jurisdiction. With them the enthusiasm 
of poetry and idolatry of love is the simple voice of nat- 
ure." ... u How can we be better employed," the young 
man adds, with a lofty inspiration which puts all modern 
agitations on the subject to shame, "than in perfecting 
that which governs us ? The brighter they are the more 
shall we be illumined. Were the minds of all women cul- 
tivated by inspiration men would become wiser, of course. 
They are a sort of pentagraphs with which Nature writes 
on the heart of man : what she delineates on the original 
map will appear on the copy." This fine contribution to 
the literature of a subject which has taken so important a 
place among the discussions of to-day would, perhaps, how- 
ever, scarcely accord with the tone of the arguments now 
in use. 

From this romantic question he diverged into politics 
proper; and, under the stimulation of London life, and 
his encounter with the actual warriors of the day, the 
tide had begun to run so strongly that Sheridan ventured 
an unwary stroke against the shield which Dr. Johnson 
had just hung up against all comers in his pamphlet on 



IT.] PUBLIC LIFE. 117 

the American question. Fortunately for himself, it did 
not come to anything, for he had intended, it appears, to 
instance Johnson's partisanship on this occasion as a proof 
of the effect of a pension, describing " such pamphlets " as 
" trifling and insincere as the venal quit-rent of a birthday 
ode," and stigmatising the great writer himself, the Auto- 
crat of the past age, as " an eleemosynary politician who 
writes on the subject merely because he has been recom- 
mended for writing otherwise all his lifetime." Such pro- 
fanity will make the reader shiver; but, fortunately, it 
never saw the light, and with easy levity the young drama- 
tist turned round and paid the literary patriarch such a 
compliment upon the stage as perhaps the secret assault 
made all the warmer. This was conveyed in a prologue 
written by Sheridan to a play of Savage: 

" So pleads the tale that gives to future timea 
The son's misfortunes and the parent's crimes ; 
There shall his fame, if own'd to-night, survive, 
Fix'd by the hand that bids our language live." 

Another political essay of a less personal character upon 
the subject of Absenteeism in Ireland also forms one of 
these unfinished relics. Sheridan was so little of an Irish- 
man in fact that there is not, we think, a single trace even 
of a visit to his native country from the time he left it as 
a child, and all his personal interests and associations were 
in England. But his family had veered back again to the 
place of their birth, his brother and sisters having settled 
in Dublin, and no doubt a warmer interest than the com- 
mon would naturally be in the mind of a man whose 
veins were warmed by that sunshine which somehow gets 
into English blood on the other side of the narrow seas. 
In those elementary days, when Ireland was but beginning 



118 RICHARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAN. [CHAP. 

to find out that her woes could have a remedy, Absentee- 
ism was the first and greatest of the evils that were sup- 
posed to oppress her, and the optimists of the period 
were disposed to believe that, could her landlords be per- 
suaded to reside on their estates, all would be well. The 
changed ideas and extraordinary development of require- 
ments since that simple age make it interesting to quote 
Sheridan's view of the situation then. He sets before us 
the system which we at present identify with the tactics 
rather of Scotch than of Irish landlords, that of sacrificing 
the people to sheep (since followed by deer), and substi- 
tuting large sheep-farms for the smaller holdings of the 
crofters or cotters, with considerable force, although argu- 
ment on that side of the question has gone so much fur- 
ther and sustained so many changes since then: 

" It must ever be the interest of the absentee to place his estate 
in the hands of as few tenants as possible, by which means there 
will be less difficulty or hazard in collecting his rents and less en- 
trusted to an agent, if the estate require one. The easiest method of 
effecting this is by laying out the land for pasturage, and letting it 
in grass to those who deal only in a ' fatal living crop,' whose prod- 
uce we are not allowed a market for where manufactured, while we 
want art, honesty, and encouragement to fit it for home consump- 
tion. Thus the indolent extravagance of the lord becomes subser- 
vient to the interests of a few mercenary graziers shepherds of most 
unpastoral principles while the veteran husbandman may lean on 
the shattered, unused plough and view himself surrounded with 
flocks that furnish raiment without food. Or if his honesty be not 
proof against the hard assaults of penury, he may be led to revenge 
himself on those ducal innovators of his little field then learn too 
late that some portion of the soil is reserved for a crop more fatal 
even than that which tempted and destroyed him. 

"Without dwelling on the particular ill effects of non-residence 
in this case, I shall conclude with representing that powerful and 
supreme prerogative which the absentee foregoes the prerogative 



IT.] PUBLIC LIFE. 119 

of mercy, of charity. The estated resident is invested with a kind 
of relieving Providence a power to heal the wounds of undeserved 
misfortune, to break the blows of adverse fortune, and leave chance 
no power to undo the hopes of honest, persevering industry. There 
cannot surely be a more happy station than that wherein prosperity 
and worldly interest are to be best forwarded by an exertion of the 
most endearing offices of humanity. This is his situation who lives 
on the soil which furnishes him with means to live. It is his inter- 
est to watch the devastation of the storm, the ravage of the flood, to 
mark the pernicious extremes of the elements, and by a judicious 
indulgence and assistance to convert the sorrows and repinings of 
the sufferer into blessings on his humanity. By such a conduct he 
saves his people from the sin of unrighteous murmurs, and makes 
Heaven his debtor for their resignation." 

It is strange yet not incomprehensible that the course 
of events should have turned this plaint and appeal to 
the landlords to unite themselves more closely with their 
tenants into the present fierce endeavour to get rid of 
landlords altogether. In the end of last century every- 
body repeated the outcry. It was the subject of Miss Edge- 
worth's popular stories, as well as of young Sheridan's 
first essay in political writing. Perhaps, had the appeal 
been cordially responded to in those days, there would 
have been a less dangerous situation, a milder demand, in 
our own. 

These not very brilliant but sensible pages were the first 
serious attempts of Sheridan, so far as appears, to put 
together his thoughts upon a political subject. He had 
shown no particular inclination towards public life in his 
earlier days ; no resort to debating clubs, like that which at 
a later period brought Canning under the eyes of those in 
power, is recorded of him. Oratory, in all probability, had 
been made odious to him by his father's unceasing devotion 
to his system, and the prominence which the art of elocu- 



120 RICHARD BRDfSLEY SHERIDAN. [CHAP. 

tion had been made to bear in his early life. And it is a 
little difficult to make out how it was that, just as he had 
achieved brilliant success in one career, he should have so 
abruptly turned to another, and set his heart and hopes on 
that in preference to every other path to distinction. No 
doubt a secret sense that in this great sphere there were 
superior triumphs to be won must have been in his mind. 
Nobody, so far as we are aware, has ever doubted Sheridan's 
honesty or the sincerity of his political opinions. At the 
same time it can scarcely be imagined that the acquaint- 
ance of Fox and Burke had not a large share in determin- 
ing these opinions, and that other hopes and wishes, apart 
from the impulses of patriotism and public spirit, had not 
much to do in turning him towards a course of life so little 
indicated by anything in its beginning. There is no ap- 
pearance that Sheridan cared very much for literary fame. 
His taste was not refined nor his mind highly cultivated ; 
he thought, like Byron and George III., that Shakspeare 
was a much over-rated writer. He was very difficult to 
please in his own diction, and elaborated both written dia- 
logues and spoken speeches with the most anxious care; 
but fame as an author was not what he looked for or 
cared for, nor would such a reputation have answered his 
purpose. Social success was what he aimed at he want- 
ed to be among the first, not in intellect, but in fact; to 
win his way into the highest elevation, and to stand there 
on an equality, with whosoever should approach. For such 
a fame as this literature, unaided, can do but little. The 
days of patronage, in which an author was the natural 
banger-on and dependent of a great man, are not so dis- 
similar as they appear to our own ; except in so far that 
the patron in former days paid a more just equivalent for 
the distinction which his famous hanger-on might give 



iv.] PUBLIC LIFE. 121 

him. In modern times the poet who is content to swell 
the train of a great family and get himself into society by 
that means, gets a very precarious footing in the enchant- 
ed circle, and is never recognised as one of the fine people 
who gave him a great deal of vague praise, but nothing 
else. This was a sort of favour which Sheridan would 
never have brooked. He had made that clear from the 
beginning. He would not creep into favour or wait for 
invitations into great houses, but boldly and at once took 
the initiative, and himself invited the great world, and be- 
came the host and entertainer of persons infinitely more 
important than himself. There is no subject on which 
the easy morality of society has been more eloquent than 
on the folly of the artist and man of letters who, not con- 
tent with having all houses thrown open to him, insists 
upon entertaining in their own persons, and providing for 
dukes and princes what can be but a feeble imitation, at 
the best, of their own lordly fare. But we think that the 
sympathetic reader, when he looks into it, will find many 
inducements to a charitable interpretation of such seeming 
extravagance. The artist is received everywhere; he is 
among, but not of, the most brilliant assemblages, perhaps 
even he lends them part of their attractions ; but even in 
the very stare with which the fine ladies and fine gentle- 
men contemplate him he will read the certainty that he is 
a spectacle, a thing to be looked at but not one of them. 
In his own house the balance is redressed, and he holds 
his fit place. Something of this feeling, perhaps, was in 
the largeness of hospitality with which Sir Walter Scott 
threw open his doors, a magnanimous yet half-disdainful 
generosity, as who should say, "If you will stare, come 
here and do it, where I am your superior as master of my 
house, your inferior only out of high courtesy and honour 
I 6* 34 



122 RICHARD BRLKSLEY SHERIDAN. [CHAP. 

to my guest." Sheridan was not like Scott, but he was 
a proud man. And it pleased his sense of hutnour that 
the Duchess of Devonshire, still balancing in her mind 
whether she should receive these young people, should be 
his guest instead, and have the grace extended to her, in- 
stead of first extending it to him. And no doubt his de- 
termination to acquire for himself, if by any possibility he 
could, a position in which he should be on the same level 
as the greatest not admitted on sufferance, but an indis- 
pensable part of society had something to do with the 
earnestness with which he threw himself into public life. 
The origin of a great statesman is unimportant. Power 
is a dazzling cloak which covers every imperfection, where- 
as fame of other kinds but emphasizes and points them 
out. 

This is by no means to say that Sheridan had no higher 
meaning in his political life. He was very faithful to his 
party and to Fox, and later to the less respectable patron 
with whom his name is associated, with little reward of 
any kind. But he was not an enthusiast, like Burke, 
any more than a philosopher, nor was his patriotism or 
his character worthy to be named along with those of that 
noble and unfortunate politician, with whom for one pe- 
riod of their lives Sheridan was brought into a sort of 
rivalship. Burke was at all times a leading and originat- 
ing spirit, penetrating the surface of things; Sheridan a 
light-hearted adventurer in politics as well as in life, with 
keen perceptions and a brilliant way of now and then hit- 
ting out a right suggestion, and finding often a fine and 
effective thing to say. It is impossible, however, to think 
of him as influencing public opinion in any great or last- 
ing way. He acted on the great stage of public life, on a 
large scale, the part of the Horatios nay, let us say the 



IT.J PUBLIC LIFE. 123 

Mercutios of the theatre sometimes by stress of circum- 
stances coming to the front with a noble piece of rhetoric 
or even of pure poetry to deliver once in a way, always 
giving a brilliancy of fine costume and dazzle and glitter 
on the second level. If the motives which led him to that 
greatest of arenas were not solely the ardours of patriot- 
ism, they were not the meaner stimulants of self-interest. 
He had no thought of making his fortune out of his coun- 
try ; if he hoped to get advancement by her, and honour, 
and a place among the highest, these desires were at least 
not mercenary, and might with very little difficulty be 
translated into that which is still considered a lofty weak- 
ness that which Milton calls the last infirmity of noble 
minds a desire for fame. It is easy to make this pur- 
suit look very fine and dazzling : it may be mean enough, 
on the other hand. 

It was in 1780, when he was twenty-nine, that Sher- 
idan entered Parliament. It was his pride that he was not 
brought in for any pocket borough, but was elected by 
the town of Stafford, in which the freemen of the burgh 
had the privilege of choosing their member. How they 
exercised that choice agreeably, no doubt, to themselves, 
and very much so to the candidate, whose path was thus 
extraordinarily simplified may be seen in the account of 
Sheridan's election expenses, where there is one such broad 
and simple entry as the following : " 248 Burgesses, paid 
5 5s. each." A petition against his return and that of 
his colleague was not unnaturally presented, but came to 
nothing, and Sheridan's first speech was made in his own 
defence. It was not a very successful one. The House, 
attracted by his reputation in other scenes, and by the 
name, which by this time was so well known in society, 
heard him " with particular attention ;" but he, whose 



124 RICHARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAN. [CHAP. 

future appearances were to carry with them the enthusi 
astic applauses of the most difficult audience in England, 
had to submit to the force of ridicule, which he himself 
so often and so brilliantly applied in after times, and to 
that still more appalling ordeal, the chill attention and 
disappointment of his hearers. He is said to have rushed 
up to the reporters' gallery, where Woodfall was busy with 
his notes, and to have asked his opinion. " I am sorry to 
say I do not think this is your line," said that candid 
friend ; " yon had much better have stuck to your former 
pursuits." On hearing which Sheridan rested his head 
on his hands for a few minutes, and then vehemently 
exclaimed, " It is in me, however, and, by G , it shall 
come out !" The quiver of disappointment, excitement, 
and determination in this outcry is very characteristic. 
It did come out, and that at no very great interval, as 
everybody knows. 

Sheridan entered political life at a time when it was 
full of commotion and conflict. The American war was 
in full progress, kept up by the obstinacy of the King 
and the subserviency of his Ministers against almost all 
the better feeling of England, and in face of a steadily 
increasing opposition, which extended from statesmen like 
Burke and Fox down to the other extremity of society 
to the Surrey peasant who was William Cobbett's father, 
and who " would not have suffered his best friend to 
drink success to the King's arms." Politics were excep- 
tionally keen and bitter, since they were in a great meas- 
ure a personal conflict between a small number of men 
pitted against each other men of the same training, po- 
sition, and traditions, but split into two hereditary fac- 
tions, and contending fiercely for the mastery while the 
nation had little more to do with it than to stand at a 



IT.] PUBLIC LITE. 125 

distance vaguely looking on, with no power of action, and 
even an imperfect knowledge of the proceedings of Par- 
liament, which was supposed to represent and certainly 
did rule them. That the public had any right at all to 
a knowledge of what was going on in the debates of the 
two Houses, was but a recent idea, and still the reports 
were to the highest degree meagre and unsatisfactory; 
while the expression of public feeling through the news- 
papers was still in a very early stage. But within the 
narrow circle which held power, and which also held the 
potential criticism which is the soul of party in England, 
the differences of opinion were heightened by personal 
emulations, and violent oppositions existed between men 
of whom we find a difficulty in discovering now why it 
was that they did not work continuously side by side, 
instead of, with spasmodic changes, in separate parties. 
There were points, especially in respect to the representa- 
tion of the people, in which Pitt was more liberal than 
Fox ; and the Whigs, thenceforward to be associated with 
every project of electoral reform, were conservative to the 
highest degree in this respect, and defended their close 
boroughs with all the zeal of proprietorship. In 1780, 
when Sheridan entered Parliament, the King took an ac- 
tive part in every act of the Government, with an obedi- 
ent Minister under his orders, and a Parliament filled with 
dependents and pensioners. No appeal to the country 
was possible in those days, or even thought of. No ap- 
peal, indeed, was possible anywhere. It was the final bat- 
tle-ground, where every combatant had his antagonist, and 
the air was always loud with cries of battle. The Whig 
party bad it very much at heart to reduce the power of 
the Court, and clear out the accumulated corruptions which 
stifled wholesome life in the House of Commons ; but they 



126 RICHARD BREsSLEY SHERIDAN. [CHAP. 

had no very strong desire to widen the franchise or admit 
the mass of the people to political privileges. Sheridan, 
indeed, had taken part along with Fox during that very 
year in a Reform meeting which had passed certain " Res- 
olutions on the state of the representation," advocating 
the right of the people to universal suffrage and annual 
parliaments ; but it is scarcely possible to believe that 
their share in it was more than a pleasantry. " Always 
say that you are for annual parliaments and universal 
suffrage, then you are safe," Fox is reported to have said, 
with, no doubt, a twinkle in his eye ; while Burke made 
merry over the still more advanced opinions of some vis- 
ionary politicians, " who founding on the latter words 
of a statute of Edward III. that a parliament should be 
holden every year once, and more often if need be were 
known by the denomination of Oftener-if-need-bes." " For 
my part," he would add, "I am an Oftener-if -need-be." 
Thus the statesmen jested at their ease, very sure that 
nothing would come of it, and not unwilling to amuse 
themselves with schemes so extravagant. 

Among the leaders of the party with which Sheridan 
threw in his fortunes, a very high, perhaps the highest, 
place was held by Burke, who was in some respects like 
himself, a man of humble origin, with none of the digni- 
fied antecedents possessed by the others, though with a 
genius superior to them all, and the highest oratorical 
powers: the countryman, perhaps the model, perhaps 
the rival, of the new recruit with whom he had so many 
external points of likeness. It is curious to find two 
such men, both Irishmen, both in the higher sense of the 
word adventurers, with the same command of eloquence, 
at the head of a great English political party at the same 
moment. There does not seem ever to have been the 



iv.] PUBLIC LIFE. 12Y 

same cordiality of friendship between them, notwithstand- 
ing, or perhaps in consequence of, the similarity of their 
circumstances, as existed between each of them and the 
genial and gracious Fox, whose lovableness and sweetness 
of nature seem to have vanquished every heart, and kept 
an atmosphere of pleasantness about him, which breathes 
through every page in which he is named. To have come 
at once into the close companionship of such men as these, 
to be permitted to share their counsels, to add his word to 
theirs, to unite with them in all their undertakings, and, 
dearest joy of all, to fight by their side in every par- 
liamentary tumult, and defy the Tories and the Fates 
along with them, was an elevation which might well 
have turned the head of the young dramatist, who had 
so little right to expect any such astonishing advance- 
ment. 

And the firmament all around this keen and eager 
centre was gloomy and threatening in America the war 
advancing to that stage in which continuance becomes an 
impossibility, and a climax of one kind or another must 
be arrived at in Ireland, which in those days was the 
Ireland of the Protestant ascendency, the reverse of every- 
thing that calls itself Irish now, a sort of chronic semi- 
rebellion in India, where the Company were making 
their conquests and forming their government in inde- 
pendence of any direct imperial control, a hundred ques- 
tions arising which would have to be settled ere long 
in France, the gathering of the Revolutionary storm, which 
was soon to burst and affect all the world. A more ex- 
citing outlook could not be. The existing generation did 
not perhaps realise the crowding in of troubles from every 
side as we do, to whom the whole panorama is rolled out ; 
while naturally there were matters which we take very 



128 RICHARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAX. [CHAP. 

calmly, as knowing them to have passed quite innocuously 
over the great vitality of England, which to them looked 
dangers unspeakable. But we need not attempt to enter 
here into that detailed narrative of the political life of 
the period which would be necessary did we trace Sher- 
idan through every debate he took part in, and every polit- 
ical movement in which he was engaged. This has been 
recently done in a former volume of this series with a 
completeness and care which would render a repeated 
effort of the same character a superfluity, even were the 
writer bold enough to venture upon such a competition. 
The political surroundings and events of Burke's public 
life were to a great extent those of Sheridan also, and it 
would be almost an impertinence to retrace the ground 
which Mr. Morley has gone over so thoroughly. We will 
therefore confine ourselves to an indication of the chief 
movements in which Sheridan was personally involved, 
and in which his impetuous eloquence produced an effect 
which has made his name historical. This result was not 
immediately attained; but it is evident that the leaders 
of the party must have very soon perceived how valuable 
a recruit the young member for Stafford was, since he was 
carried with them into office after little more than two 
years of parliamentary life, in the short accession to power 
of the Whig party after the fall of Lord North. What 
he had done to merit this speedy elevation it is difficult 
to see. He was made one of the under-secretaries of state 
in the Rockingham Ministry, and had to all appearance 
the ball at his foot. The feeling entertained on this sub- 
ject by his family, watching from across the Channel with 
much agitation of hope the extraordinary and unaccount- 
able advance he was making, is admirably set forth in the 
following letter from his brother : 



IT.} PUBLIC LIFE. 129 

" I am much obliged to you for your early intelligence concerning 
the fate of the Ministry, and give you joy on the occasion, notwith- 
standing your sorrow for the departure of the good Opposition. I 
understand very well what you mean by this sorrow ; but as you may 
be now in a situation in which you may obtain some substantial ad- 
vantage to yourself, for God's sake improve the opportunity to the 
utmost, and don't let dreams of empty fame (of which you have had 
enough in conscience) carry you away from your solid interests. I 
return you many thanks for Fox's letter I mean for your intention 
to make him write one for as your good intentions always satisfy 
your conscience,' and that you seem to think the carrying of them 
into execution to be a mere trifling ceremony, as well omitted as not, 
your friends must always take the will for the deed. I will forgive 
you, however, on condition that you will for once in your life consider 
that though the will alone may perfectly satisfy yourself, your friends 
would be a little more gratified if they were sometimes to see it ac- 
companied by the deed and let me be the first upon whom you try 
the experiment. If the people here are not to share the fate of their 
patrons, but are suffered to continue in the government of this coun- 
try, I believe you will have it ha your power, as I am certain it will 
be in your inclination, to fortify my claims upon them, by recom- 
mendation from your side of the water, in such a manner as to in- 
sure to me what I have a right to expect from them, but of which I 
can have no certainty without that assistance. I wish the present 
people may continue here, because I certainly have claims upon them ; 

and considering the footing that Lord C and Charles Fox are 

on, a recommendation from the latter would now have every weight; 
it would be drawing a bill upon Government here, payable at sight, 
which they dare not protest. So, dear Dick, I shall rely upon you 
that this will really be done ; and,' to confess the truth, unless it be 
done, and speedily, I shall be completely ruined." 

The delightful naivete of this letter, and its half-pro- 
voked tone of good advice and superior wisdom, throws a 
humorous gleam over the situation. That it was Sher- 
idan's bounden duty " for God's sake " to take care that 
no foolish ideas should prevent him from securing sub- 
stantial advantage to himself, and in the meantime and 



130 RICHARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAN. [CHIP. 

at once an appointment for his brother, is too far beyond 
question to be discussed ; but the writer cannot but feel 
an impatient conviction that Dick is quite capable of neg- 
lecting both for some flummery about fame, which is 
really almost too much to be put up with. Charles Sher- 
idan got his appointment, which was that of Secretary of 
War in Ireland, a post which he enjoyed for many years. 
But the "substantial advantage" which he considered it 
his brother's duty to secure for himself never came. 

Sheridan's first taste of the sweets of office was a very 
short one. The Rockingham Ministry remained in but 
four months, during which time they succeeded in clear- 
ing away a considerable portion of the accumulated un- 
cleanness which had recently neutralised the power of 
the House of Commons. The measures passed in this 
brief period dealt a fatal blow at that overwhelming in- 
fluence of the Crown which had brought about so many 
disasters, and, by a stern cutting off of the means of cor- 
ruption, " mark the date when the direct bribery of mem- 
bers absolutely ceased," which is the highest praise. But 
Lord Rockingham died, and Lord Shelburne succeeded 
him, who represented but one side of the party, and the 
withdrawal of Fox from the Ministry brought Sheridan 
back it is said partly against his own judgment, which 
says all the more for his fidelity to his leader into the 
irresponsibility and unprofitableness of opposition. The 
famous Coalition, which came into being a year later, 
restored him to office as Secretary of the Treasury. 
Sheridan went on forming his style as a political speaker 
with great care and perseverance through all these vicissi- 
tudes. At first he is said to have written his speeches out 
carefully, and even learnt them by heart, " using for this 
purpose," Moore tells us, " the same sort of copy-books 



iv.] PUBLIC LIFE. 131 

which he had employed in the first rough draughts of his 
plays." Afterwards a scribble on a piece of paper was 
enough to guide him, and sometimes it is very evident he 
made a telling retort or a bold attack without preparation 
at all. One of these, preserved in the collection of his 
speeches, has a vivid gleam of restrained excitement and 
personal feeling in it which gives it an interest more hu- 
man than political. It occurred in the discussion by the 
House of the preliminaries of the treaty afterwards known 
as the Treaty of Versailles, in which the independence of 
America was formally recognized. In Sheridan's speech 
on the subject he had referred pointedly to Pitt, who had 
become Chancellor of the Exchequer in Lord Shelburne's 
Administration, and who had objected to something in a 
previous debate as inconsistent with the established usage 
of the House. " This convinced him," Sheridan said, " that 
the right honourable gentleman was more a practical pol- 
itician than an experienced one," and that " his years and 
his very early political exaltation had not permitted him 
to look whether there had been precedents, or to acquire 
a knowledge of the journals of the House." Pitt re- 
sented this assault upon his youth as every young man is 
apt to do, and did his best to turn the war into the enemy's 
camp. Here is the somewhat ungenerous assault he made 
one, however, which has been repeated almost as often 
as there have been eminent literary men in public life : 

"No man admired more than he did the abilities of that right 
honourable gentleman, the elegant sallies of his thought, the gay effu- 
sions of his fancy, his dramatic turns, and his epigrammatic points ; 
and if they were reserved for a proper stage, they would no doubt 
receive what the honourable gentleman's abilities always did receive, 
the plaudits of the audience; and it would be his fortune i sinplausu 
gaudere theatri. 1 But this was not the proper scene for the exhibi- 



132 RICHARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAN. [CHAP. 

tion of these elegancies ; and he therefore must beg leave to call the 
attention of the House to the serious consideration of the very im- 
portant questions now before them." 

This unhandsome reference to Sheridan's theatrical 
fame was one of those uncalled-for and unworthy attacks 
which give the person assailed an enormous advantage 
over the assailant; and Sheridan was quite equal to the 
occasion : 

" Mr. Sheridan then rose to an explanation, which being made, he 
took notice of that particular sort of personality which the right 
honourable gentleman had thought proper to introduce. He need 
not comment upon it the propriety, the taste, the gentlemanly point 
of it, must have been obvious to the House. But, said Mr. Sheridan, 
let me assure the right honourable gentleman that I do now, and 
will at any time when he chooses to repeat this sort of allusion, meet 
it with the most sincere good-humour. Nay, I will say more: flat- 
tered and encouraged by the right honourable gentleman's panegyric 
on my talents, if I ever again engage in the compositions he alludes 
to, I may be tempted to an act of presumption to attempt an im- 
provement on one of Ben Jonson's best characters the character 
of the Angry Boy, hi the Alchymist." * 

Apart from sparrings of this description, however, in 
which his light hand and touch were always effective, 
Sheridan gradually proceeded to take a larger part in the 
business of the House, his speeches being full of energy, 
lucidity, and point, as well as of unfailing humour. But 
it was not till the celebrated impeachment of Warren 
Hastings, one of the most dramatic episodes in parlia- 
mentary history, that he rose to the fulness of his elo- 
quence and power. The story of that episode has been 
often told: almost more often and more fully than any 

1 This threat was carried out by the issue of a pretended play-bill, 
in which not only was the part of the Angry Boy allotted to Pitt, but 
the audacious wit proceeded to assign that of Surly to " His " ! 



IT.] PUBLIC LIFE. 133 

other chapter of modern history ; and everybody knows 
how and why it was that having added to the wealth 
of hie chiefs and the power of the nation, and with a con- 
sciousness in his mind of having done much to open up 
and confirm an immense new empire to his country this 
Indian ruler and lawgiver, astonished, found himself con- 
fronted by the indignation of all that was best and great- 
est in England, and ere he knew was placed at the bar to 
account for what he had done, the treasures he had ex- 
acted, and the oppressions with which he had crushed the 
native states and their rulers. 

" Is India free ? and does she wear her plumed 
And jewelled turban with a smile of peace ? 
Or do we grind her still ?" 

Cowper had said, as he opened his scanty newspaper in 
the fireside quiet at Olney, some time before. The man- 
ner in which such a prize was added to the British crown 
has slipped from the general memory nowadays, and we 
are apt to forget how many deeds were done on that ar- 
gument that would not bear the light of public inquiry. 
But this great trial will always stand as a proof that the 
time had arrived in the history of England when she 
would no longer tolerate the high-handed proceedings of 
the conqueror, and that even national aggrandisement was 
not a strong enough inducement to make her overlook 
injustice and cruelty, though in the ends of the earth. 

It was Burke who originated the idea of impeachment 
for Warren Hastings: it was Pitt, by his unexpected 
vote with the accusing party, who made it practicable ; 
but Sheridan was the hero of the occasion. One of the 
worst charges against Hastings was his conduct to the 
princesses of Oude, the old and helpless Begums whom he 



134 RICHARD BRIXSLEY SHERIDAN. [CHAP. 

imprisoned and ill-used in order to draw from them their 
treasures ; and this moving subject, the one of all others 
best adapted for him, it was given to Sheridan to set forth 
in all the atrocity of its circumstances, and with all the 
power of eloquent indignation of which he was master, 
before the House, as one of the grounds for the impeach- 
ment. The speech was ill reported, and has not been pre- 
served in a form which does it justice, but we have such 
details of its effect as have rarely been laid up in history. 
The following account, corroborated by many witnesses, 
is taken from the summary given at the head of the ex- 
tracts from this oration in the collection of Sheridan's 
speeches : 

" For five hours and a half Mr. Sheridan commanded the universal 
interest and admiration of the House (which, from the expectation of 
the day, was uncommonly crowded) by an oration of almost unexampled 
excellence, uniting the most convincing closeness and accuracy of 
argument with the most luminous precision and perspicuity of lan- 
guage, and alternately giving form and energy to truth by solid and 
substantial reasoning ; and enlightening the most extensive and in- 
volved subjects with the purest clearness of logic and the brightest 
splendours of rhetoric. Every prejudice, every prepossession, was 
gradually overcome by the force of this extraordinary combination 
of keen but liberal discrimination ; of brilliant yet argumentative 
wit. So fascinated were the auditors by his eloquence, that when 
Mr. Sheridan sat down the whole House the members, peers, and 
strangers involuntarily joined in a tumult of applause, and adopted 
a mode of expressing their admiration, new and irregular in the 
House, by loudly and repeatedly clapping with their hands. Mr. 
Burke declared it to be the most astonishing effort of eloquence, 
argument, and wit united of which there was any record or tradition. 
Mr. Fox said, 'All that he had ever heard all that he had ever read 
when compared with it dwindled into nothing, and vanished like 
vapour before the sun.' Mr. Pitt acknowledged that it surpassed all 
the eloquence of ancient or of modern times, and possessed every- 
thing that genius or art could furnish to agitate and control the hu- 



iv.] PUBLIC LIFE. 135 

man mind. The effects it produced were proportioned to its merits. 
After a considerable suspension of the debate, one of the friends of 
Mr. Hastings Mr. Burgess with some difficulty obtained for a short 
time a hearing ; but, finding the House too strongly affected by what 
they had heard to listen to him with favour, sat down again. Sev- 
eral members confessed they had come down strongly prepossessed in 
favour of the person accused, and imagined nothing less than a mir- 
acle could have wrought so entire a revolution in their sentiments. 
Others declared that though they could not resist the conviction that 
flashed upon their minds, yet they wished to have leave to cool before 
they were called upon to vote ; and though they were persuaded it 
would require another miracle to produce another change in their 
opinions, yet for the sake of decorum they thought it proper that the 
debate should be adjourned. Mr. Fox and Mr. A. Taylor strongly op- 
posed this proposition, contending that it was not less absurd than 
unparliamentary to defer coming to a vote for no other reason than 
had been alleged, than because members were too firmly convinced ; 
but Mr. Pitt concurring with the opinions of the former, the debate 
was adjourned." 

What Pitt said was, that they were all still " under the 
wand of the enchanter ;" while other members individually 
made similar acknowledgments. " Sir William Dalton im- 
mediately moved an adjournment, confessing that in the 
state of mind in which Mr. Sheridan's speech had left 
him it was impossible for him to give a determinate opin- 
ion." That great audience, the most difficult, the most 
important in Christendom, was overwhelmed like a com- 
pany of sympathetic women by the quick communicating 
thrill of intellectual excitement, of generous ardour, of 
wonder, terror, pity. It was like a fine intoxication which 
nobody could resist. Here is another amusing instance of 
the influence it exercised : 

" The late Mr. Logan . . . author of a most masterly defence of Mr. 
Hastings, went that day to the House of Commons prepossessed for 
the accused, and against the accuser. At the expiration of the first 



136 RICHARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAN. [CHAP. 

hour he said to a friend, ' All this is declamatory assertion without 
proof ;' when the second was finished, ' This is a most wonderful ora- 
tion.' At the close of the third, ' Mr. Hastings has acted most un- 
justifiably ;' the fourth, ' Mr. Hastings is a most atrocious criminal ;' 
and at last, ' Of all monsters of iniquity, the most enormous is War- 
ren Hastings !' " 

It was no wonder if the astonished members, with a 
feeling that this transformation was a kind of magic, un- 
accountable by any ordinary rule, were afraid of them- 
selves, and dared not venture on any practical step until 
they had cooled down a little. It is the most remarkable 
instance on record in modern times of the amazing power 
of oratory. The public interest had flagged in the matter, 
notwithstanding the vehement addresses of Burke, but it 
awoke with a leap of excitement at this magic touch ; and 
when, some months later, the trial took place, according to 
an old and long-disused formula, in Westminster Hall, the 
whole world flocked to listen. Macaulay has painted the 
scene for us in one of his most picturesque pages. The 
noble hall full of noble people ; the peers in their ermine ; 
the judges in their red robes ; the grey old walls hung 
with scarlet ; the wonderful audience in the galleries ; the 
Queen herself, with all her ladies, among them the lively, 
weary, little frizzled head with so much in it, of Fanny 
Burney, prejudiced yet impressionable, looking over her 
Majesty's shoulder ; and such faces as those of the lovely 
Duchess of Devonshire, the haughty beauty of Mrs. Fitz- 
herbert, the half-angelic sweetness of Sheridan's wife, with 
many another less known to fame, and all the men whose 
names confer a glory on their age. " In the midst of the 
blaze of red draperies an open space had been fitted up 
with green benches and tables for the Commons." The 
great commoners who conducted the prosecution, the man- 



IT.] PUBLIC LIFE. m 

agers of the impeachment, as they were called, appeared in 
full dress, even Fox, the negligent, " paying the illustrious 
tribunal the compliment of wearing a bag and sword." 
Amidst these public prosecutors the two kindred forms of 
Burke and Sheridan, both with a certain bluntness of feat- 
ure which indicated their race, the latter at least, with 
those brilliant eyes which are so often the mark of genius, 
were the principal figures. 

This wonderful scene lasted for months ; and it may be 
supposed what an exciting entertainment was thus provided 
for society, ever anxious for a new sensation. Burke 
spoke for four days, and with great effect. But it was 
when it came to the turn of Sheridan to repeat his won- 
derful effort, and once more plead the cause of the robbed 
and insulted princesses, that public excitement rose to its 
height. " The curiosity of the public to hear him was un- 
bounded. His sparkling and highly finished declamation 
lasted two days ; but the hall was crowded to suffocation 
the whole time. It was said that fifty guineas had been 
paid for a single ticket." His speech, as a matter of fact, 
extended over four days, and the trial, which had begun in 
February, had lasted out till June, dragging its slow length 
along, when it came to this climax. Many of his col- 
leagues considered this speech greatly inferior to the first 
outburst of eloquence on the same subject with which 
he had electrified the House of Commons. "Sheridan's 
speech on the Begums in the House admirable ; in West- 
minster Hall contemptible," Lord Granville said, and such 
was also the opinion of Fox. But a greater than either 
was of a different opinion. In the sitting of the House 
held on the 6th of June, after an exciting morning spent 
in Westminster Hall, a certain Mr. Burgess, the same per- 
tinacious person who had risen to speak in favour of Hast- 
K 7 35 



138 RICHARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAN. [CHAP. 

ings, while still St. Stephens was resounding with applause 
and inarticulate with emotion on the day of Sheridan's 
first speech, got up once more, while all minds were again 
occupied by the same subject, to call the attention of the 
House to some small matter of finance. He was trans- 
fixed immediately by the spear of Burke. " He could not 
avoid offering his warmest congratulations to the honour- 
able gentleman on his having chosen that glorious day, 
after the triumph of the morning, to bring forward a busi- 
ness of such an important nature," cried the great orator 
with contemptuous sarcasm ; and he went on to applaud 
the powerful mind of the stolid partisan who had proved 
himself capable of such an effort, " after every other mem- 
ber had been struck dumb with astonishment and admira- 
tion at the wonderful eloquence of his friend, Mr. Sher- 
idan, who had that day again surprised the thousands who 
hung with rapture on his accents, by such a display of 
talents as was unparalleled in the annals of oratory, and so 
did the highest honour to himself, to that House, and to 
the country." 

The reader will be perhaps more interested, in this 
deluge of applause, to hear how the wife of whom per- 
haps Sheridan was not worthy, yet who was not herself 
without blame, a susceptible creature, with a fine nature 
always showing under the levities and excitements that 
circumstances had made natural to her exulted in his 
triumph : 

" I have delayed writing [the letter is to her sister-in-law] till I 
could gratify myself and you by sending you the news of our dear 
Dick's triumph of our triumph, I may call it for surely no one in 
the slightest degree connected with him but must feel proud and 
happy. It is impossible, my dear woman, to convey to you the de- 
light, the astonishment, the adoration, he has excited in the breasts 



IT.] PUBLIC LIFE. 139 

of every class of people. Every party prejudice has been overcome 
by a display of genius, eloquence, and goodness, which no one with 
anything like a heart about them could have listened to without be- 
ing the wiser and the better all the rest of their lives. What must 
my feelings be, you only can imagine. To tell you the truth, it is 
with some difficulty that I can ' let down my mind,' as Mr. Burke 
said afterwards, to talk or think on that or any other subject. But 
pleasure too exquisite becomes pain, and I am at this moment suf- 
fering from the delightful anxieties of last week." 

This triumph, however, like Sheridan's previous suc- 
cesses, would seem to have been won by a fit of accidental 
exertion ; for it was still as difficult as ever to keep him 
in harness and secure his attention. A letter quoted in 
Moore's life from Burke to Mrs. Sheridan makes the diffi- 
culty very apparent. The great statesman begins by skil- 
ful praise of Sheridan's abilities to propitiate his wife; 
and then implores Mrs. Sheridan's aid in " prevailing upon 
Mr. Sheridan to be with us this day at half after three in 
the Committee." The paymaster of Oude was to be ex- 
amined, he adds, with anxious emphasis : " Oude is Mr. 
Sheridan's particular province; and I do most seriously 
ask that he would favour us with his assistance." This 
proves how little he was to be relied upon, even now, in 
the very moment of triumph. Yet on the very next page- 
we read of the elaborate manner in which his speech was 
prepared, and of the exertions of his domestic helpers in 
arranging and classifying his materials ; and he seems 
from Moore's account to have laboured indefatigably to 
acquire the necessary knowledge : 

"There is a large pamphlet of Mr. Hastings," Moore tells us, 
" consisting of more than two hundred pages, copied out mostly in 
her (Mrs. Sheridan's) writing, with some assistance from another 
female hand. The industry, indeed, of all about him was called into 
requisition for the great occasion : some busy with the pen and scis- 



140 RICHARD BRLNSLEY SHERIDAN. [CHAP. 

sors making extracts, some pasting and stitching his scattered mem- 
orandums in their places, so that there was scarcely a member of 
his family that could not boast of having contributed his share to 
the mechanical construction of this speech. The pride of its suc- 
cess was, of course, equally participated ; and Edwards, a favorite 
servant of Mr. Sheridan, was long celebrated for his professed imi- 
tation of the manner in which his master delivered (what seems to 
have struck Edwards as the finest part of the speech) his closing 
words, ' My Lords, I have done.' " 

Macaulay informs us that Sheridan " contrived, with a 
knowledge of stage effect which his father might have en- 
vied, to sink back as if exhausted into the arms of Burke, 
who hugged him with the energy of generous admiration," 
when the speech was done. 

In every way this was the highest point of Sheridan's 
career. Engaged in the greatest work to which civilised 
man can turn his best faculties, the government of his 
country, either potentially or by criticism, censure, and the 
restraining power of opposition, he had made his way with- 
out previous training, or any adventitious circumstances in 
his favour, to the very front rank of statesmen. When 
wrong was to be chastised and right established he was 
one of the foremost in the work. His party did nothing 
without him ; his irregular ways, the difficulty which there 
was even in getting him to attend a meeting, were all 
overlooked. Rather would the Whig leaders invent, like 
the proprietors of the theatre in former days, a snare in 
which to take him, or plead with his wife for her assist- 
ance, than do without Sheridan. This was what the play- 
er's son, the dramatist and stage-manager, who was no- 
body without education, without fortune, had come to. 
He was thirty-seven when he stood upon this apex of ap- 
plause and honour al mezzo di cammin di nostra vita. 
Had he died then, the wonder of his fame and greatness 



IT.] PUBLIC LIFE. 141 

would have been lessened by no painful drawback. If 
he were extravagant, reckless, given to the easier vices, 
so were other men of his generation and pecuniary 
embarrassment only becomes appalling when it reaches 
the stage of actual want, and when squalor and misery 
follow in its train. We linger upon the picture of th*ese 
triumphs triumphs as legitimate, as noble, and worthy 
as ever man won in which, if perhaps there was no 
such enthusiasm of generous sentiment as moved Burke, 
there was at least the sincere movement of a more vol- 
atile nature against cruelty and injustice. It does not 
in reality enhance the greatness of a mental effort that it 
is made in the cause of humanity, but it enormously in- 
creases its weight and influence with mankind. And it 
was an extraordinary piece of good-fortune for Sheridan, 
in a career made up hitherto of happy hits and splendid 
pieces of luck, that he should happily have lighted upon 
a subject for his greatest effort, which should not only af- 
ford scope for all his gifts, his impulsive generosity and 
tender-heartedness, as well, we may add, as that tendency 
to clap-trap and inflated diction which is almost always 
successful with the multitude but at the same time 
should secure for himself as the magnanimous advocate a 
large share in that sympathy of the audience for the help- 
less and injured, which his eloquence raised into tempo- 
rary passion. His subject, his oratorical power, the real 
enthusiasm which inspired him, even if that enthusiasm 
took fire at its own flame, and was more on account of 
Brinsley Sheridan than of the Begums, all helped in the 
magical effect. Even poor Mrs. Sheridan, who knew bet- 
ter than any one wherein the orator was defective, exulted 
in his triumph as "a display of genius, and eloquence, and 
goodness" He was the champion of humanity, the de- 



142 RICHARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAN. [CHAP. 

fender of the weak and helpless. No doubt, in the glow 
of interest in his own subject to which he had worked 
himself up, he felt all this more fervently even than his 
audience, which again added infinitely to his power. 

The trial came to nothing, as everybody knows. It lin- 
gered over years of tedious discussion, and through worlds 
of wearisome verbiage, and only got decided in 1795, when 
the accused, whose sins by this time had been half forgot- 
ten, whose foolish plans for himself were altogether out of 
mind, and whose good qualities had come round again to 
the recollection of the world, was acquitted. By that time 
the breaking up of the party which had brought him to 
the bar, so touchingly described by Macaulay, had come to 
pass ; and though Sheridan still held by Fox, Burke had 
fallen apart from them both for ever. Professor Smyth, 
in his valuable little Memoir of Sheridan, gives a descrip- 
tion of the orator's preparation for the postscriptal speech, 
which he had to deliver six years after, in 1794, in answer 
to the pleas of Hastings's counsel, which is very character- 
istic. Sheridan arrived suddenly one evening at the coun- 
try residence where his son Tom was staying with Smyth, 
the tutor with his chaise full of papers and announced 
his intention of getting through them all, and being ready 
with his reply the day after to-morrow. " The day after 
to-morrow ! this day six months you mean," cried Smyth, 
in consternation. Altogether Sheridan would seem to have 
taken five or six days to this trying work, recalling the 
recollection of his highest triumph, and refreshing his 
memory as to the facts, after a long and sad interval, filled 
with many misfortunes and downfalls. He never stirred 
" out of his room for three days and evenings, and each 
of the three nights, till the motes, he told me, were com- 
ing into his eyes, though the strongest and finest that ever 



IT.] PUBLIC LIFE. 143 

man was blest with," Smyth informs us. He dined every 
day with the tutor and Tom, the bright and delightful boy 
who was a sweeter and more innocent reproduction of 
himself ; and during these meals Smyth found that it was 
his part to listen, "making a slight occasional comment 
on what he told me he had been doing " : 

" On the morning appointed he went off early in a chaise-and-four 
to Grosvenor Street, and none of us, Tom told me, were to come 
near him till the speech was over. When he came into the man- 
ager's box he was in full dress, and his countenance had assumed 
an ashen colour that I had never before observed. No doubt Cicero 
himself must have quailed before so immense and magnificent an 
audience as was now assembled to hear him. He was evidently tried 
to the utmost, every nerve and faculty within him put into complete 
requisition." 

No doubt Sheridan felt the ghost of his own glory ris- 
ing up as a rival to him in this renewed and so changed 
appearance. The tutor felt that " his aspect was that of 
a perfect orator, and thought he was listening to some 
being of a totally different nature from himself ;" but this 
postscriptal harangue has had no record of fame. And al- 
ready the leaf was turned over, the dark side of life come 
upward, and Sheridan's glory on the wane. 



CHAPTER V. 

MIDDLE AGE. 

THE middle of life is the testing-ground of character and 
strength. There are many who hold a foremost place in 
the heat of youth, but sink behind when that first energy 
is played out ; and there are many whose follies happily 
die, and whose true strength is only known when serious 
existence with its weights and responsibilities comes upon 
them. Many are the revelations of this sober age. Sins 
which were but venial in the boy grow fatal in the man. 
The easy indolence, the careless good-fellowship, the rol- 
licking humour which we laugh at while we condemn 
them in youth, become coarser, vnlgarer, meaner in ma- 
turity, and acquire a character of selfishness and brutality 
which was not theirs in the time of hope. In Sheridan's 
age, above all others, the sins of a Charles Surface were 
easily pardoned to a young man. He was better liked for 
being something of a rake ; his prodigality and neglect of 
all prudent precautions, his rashness in every enterprise, 
his headlong career, which it was always believed some- 
thing might turn up to guide into a better development 
at the end, were proofs of the generosity and truth of a 
character concealing nothing. All this was natural at five- 
and-twenty. But at thirty-five, and still more at forty, 
the world gets weary of Charles Surface. His light- 



CHAP.V.] MIDDLE AGE. 145 

heartedness becomes want of feeling his rashness un- 
manly folly his shortcomings are everywhere judged by 
a different standard ; and the middle-aged man, whom 
neither regard for his honour, his duty, nor his family can 
curb and restrain, who takes his own way, whoever suffers, 
and is continually playing at the highest stakes for mere 
life, is deserted by public opinion, and can be defended 
by his friends with only faltering excuses. Sheridan had 
been such a man in his youth. He had dared everything, 
and won much from fate. Without a penny to begin with, 
or any of that capital of industry, perseverance, and deter- 
mination which serves instead of money, he got possession 
of and enjoyed all the luxuries of wealth. He did more 
than this : he became one of the leading names in Eng- 
land, foremost on imperial occasions, and known wher- 
ever news of England was prized or read ; and through 
all his earlier years the world had laughed at his shifts, 
his hair-breadth escapes, the careless prodigality of nature, 
which made it certain that by a sudden and violent effort 
at the end he could always make up for all deficiencies. 
It was a jest that 

" Of wit, of taste, of fancy, we'll debate, 
If Sheridan for once be not too late." 

And in the artificial world of the theatre the recklessness 
of the man and all his eccentricities had something in 
them which suited that abode of strong contrasts and 
effects. But after a course of years the world began to 
get tired of always waiting for Sheridan, always finding 
that he had forgotten his word and his appointments, and 
never read, much less answered, his letters. There came a 
moment when everybody with one accord ceased and even 
refused to be amused by these eccentricities any longer, 
7* 



146 RICHARD BRIXSLEY SHERIDAN. [CHAP. 

and found them to be stale jests, insolences, and charac- 
terised by a selfish disregard of everybody's comfort but 
his own. 

This natural protest no doubt was accompanied by a 
gradual development of all that was most insupportable 
in Sheridan's nature. The entire absence in him of the 
faculty of self-control grew with his advancing years ; but 
it was not till Providence had interposed and deprived 
him of the wife who, in her sweet imperfection, had yet 
done much for him, that any serious change happened 
in his fortunes. He lost his father in 1788, very shortly 
after his great triumph. There is no very evident sign 
that Thomas Sheridan ever changed his mind in respect 
to his sons, or ceased to prefer the prim and prudent 
Charles, who had bidden his brother not to be so fool- 
ishly moved by thoughts of fame as to neglect the substan- 
tial advantages which office might ensure to him. But it 
was Richard who attended upon the old man's death-bed, 
moved with an almost excessive filial devotion and regret, 
and buried him, and intended to place a fine inscription 
over him, written by no hand but that of Dr. Parr, the 
best of scholars. It was never done; but Charles Sher- 
idan (who was present, however, neither at the sick-bed 
nor the grave) had already intimated the conviction of 
the family that in Dick's case the will had to be taken 
for the deed. This loss, however, was little to the greater 
blow which he suffered a few years later. Mrs. Sheridan 
is one of those characters who, without doing anything to 
make themselves remarkable, yet leave a certain fragrance 
behind them as of something fine, and tender, and delicate. 
The reader will remember the letter referred to in the first 
chapter, in which she recounts her early troubles to her 
sympathising friend, a pretty and sentimental composition, 



v.] MIDDLE AGE. 14Y 

with a touch of Evelina (who was the young lady's con- 
temporary) in its confidences, and still more of Lydia 
Languish, whose prototype she might well have been. 
And there is a certain reflection of Lydia Languish 
throughout her life, softened by the cessation of senti- 
mental dilemmas, but never without a turn for the ro- 
mantic. That she was a good wife to Sheridan there 
seems little doubt : the accounts of the theatre kept in 
her handwriting, the long and careful extracts made and 
information prepared by her to help him even the ap- 
peals to her on every side, from her father, anxious about 
the theatre and its business, up to Mr. Burke, in the larger 
political sphere, all confident that she would be able to 
do what nobody else could do, keep Sheridan to an ap- 
pointment show what her office was between him and 
the world. Within doors, of all characters for the reck- 
less wit to enact, he was the Falkland of his own drama, 
maddening a more hapless Julia, driving her a hundred 
times out of patience and out of heart with innumerable 
suspicions, jealousies, harassment? of every kind. And no 
man who lived the life he was living, with the most riot- 
ous company of the time, could be a very good husband. 
He left her to go into society alone, in all her beauty and 
charm the St. Cecilia of many worshippers still elegant, 
lovely, and sentimental, an involuntary siren, accustomed 
to homage, and perhaps liking it a little, as most people, 
even the wisest, do. There could be no want of tenderness 
to her husband in the woman who wrote the letter of hap- 
py pride and adoration quoted in the last chapter ; and 
yet she was not herself untouched by scandal, and it was 
whispered that a young, handsome, romantic Irishman, in 
all the glory of national enthusiasm, and with the shadow 
of tragedy already upon him, had moved her heart. It ia 



148 RICHARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAN. [CHAP. 

not necessary to enter into any such vague and shadowy 
tale. No permanent alienation appears to have ever arisen 
between her and her husband, though there were many 
painful scenes, consequent upon the too finely -strung 
nerves, which is often another name for irritability and 
impatience, of both. Sheridan's sister, who lived in his 
house for a short time after her father's death, gives 
us a most charming picture of this sweet and attractive 
woman : 

" I have been here almost a week in perfect quiet. While there 
was company in the house I stayed in my room, and since my 
brother's leaving us for Margate I have sat at times with Mrs. 
Sheridan, who is kind and considerate, so that I have entire liberty. 
Her poor sister's children are all with her. The girl gives her con- 
stant employment, and seems to profit by being under so good an 
instructor. Their father was here for some days, but I did not see 
him. Last night Mrs. S. showed me a picture of Mrs. Tickell, which 
she wears round her neck. . . . Dick is still in town, and we do not 
expect him for some time. Mrs. Sheridan seems now quite recon- 
ciled to those little absences which she knows are unavoidable. I 
never saw any one so constant in employing every moment of her 
time, and to that I attribute, in a great measure, the recovery of her 
health and spirits. The education of her niece, her music, books, and 
work occupy every moment of the day. After dinner the children, 
who call her mamma-aunt, spend some time with us, and her manner 
to them is truly delightful." 

Mrs. Tickell was Mrs. Sheridan's younger sister, and 
died just a year before her. In the mean time she had 
taken immediate charge of Tickell's motherless children, 
and the pretty " copy of verses " which she dedicated to 
her sister's memory embellishes and throws light upon 
her own : 

" The hours, the days pass on ; sweet spring returns, 
And whispers comfort to the heart that mourns ; 



V.] MIDDLE AGE. 149 

But not to mine, whose dear and cherished grief 
Asks for indulgence, but ne'er hopes relief. 
For, oh ! can changing seasons e'er restore 
The loved companion I must still deplore? 
Shall all the wisdom of the world combined 
Erase thy image, Mary, from my mind, 
Or bid me hope from others to receive 
The fond affection thou alone could'st give ? 
Ah no ! my best belov'd, thou still shalt be 
My friend, my sister, all the world to me. 

Oh ! if the soul released from mortal cares 

Views the sad scene, the voice of mourning hears, 

Then, dearest saint, did'st thou thy heaven forego, 

Lingering on earth, in pity to our woe ; 

'Twas thy kind influence soothed our minds to peace, 

And bade our vain and selfish murmurs cease. 

'Twas thy soft smile that gave the worshipped clay 

Of thy bright essence one celestial ray, 

Making e'en death so beautiful that we, 

Gazing on it, forgot our misery. 

Then pleasing thought ! ere to the realms of light 

Thy franchised spirit took its happy flight, 

With fond regard perhaps thou saw'st me bend 

O'er the cold relics of my heart's best friend ; 

And heard'st me swear, while her dear hand I prest, 

And tears of agony bedew'd my breast, 

For her loved sake to act the mother's part, 

And take her darling infants to my heart, 

With tenderest care their youthful minds improve, 

And guard her treasure with protecting love. 

Once more look down, bless'd creature, and behold 

These arms the precious innocents enfold. 

Assist my erring nature to fulfil 

The sacred trust and ward off every ill ; 

And oh ! let her who is my dearest care 

Thy bless'd regard and heavenly influence share. 

Teach me to form her pure and artless mind 

Like thine, as true, as innocent, as kind, 



150 RICHARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAN. [CHAP. 

That when some future day my hopes shall bless, 
And every voice her virtue shall express, 
When my fond heart delighted hears her praise, 
As with unconscious loveliness she strays, 
Such, let me say, with tears of joy the while, 
Such was the softness of my Mary's smile ; 
Such was her youth, so blithe, so rosy-sweet, 
And such her mind, unpractised in deceit ; 
With artless eloquence, unstudied grace, 
Thus did she gain in every heart a place. 
Then, while the dear remembrance I behold, 
Time shall steal on, nor tell me I am old, 
Till nature wearied, each fond duty o'er, 
I join my angel friend to part no more !" 

There is something extremely sweet and touching in 
these lines, with their faded elegance, their pretty senti- 
ment, the touch of the rococo in them which has now 
recovered popular favour, something between poetry and 
embroidery, and the most tender feminine feeling. All 
sorts of pretty things were said of this gentle woman in 
her day. Jackson of Exeter, the musician, who had some 
professional engagements with her father, and accompanied 
her often in her songs, said that " to see her, as she stood 
singing beside him at the pianoforte, was like looking 
into the face of an angel." Another still higher authority, 
the Bishop of Norwich, described her as " the connecting 
link between woman and angel." To Wilkes, the coarse 
and wild yet woman - loving demagogue, she was " the 
most modest flower he had ever seen." Sir Joshua 
painted her as St. Cecilia, and this was the flattering name 
by which she was known. Her letters, with a good deal 
of haste, and the faintest note of flippancy in them, are 
pretty too, full of news and society, and the card-tables 
at which she lost her money, and the children in whom 



v.] MIDDLE AGE. 151 

her real heart was centred. The romantic girl had grown 
into a woman, not lofty or great, but sweet and clever, 
and silly and generous a fascinating creature. Moore 
describes, with a comical, high-flown incongruity which re- 
minds us of Mr. Micawber, her various qualities, the intel- 
lect which could appreciate the talents of her husband, 
the feminine sensibility that could passionately feel his 
success. " Mrs. Sheridan may well take her place beside 
these Roman wives," he says ; " not only did Calpurnia 
sympathise with the glory of her husband abroad, but she 
could also, like Mrs. Sheridan, add a charm to his talents 
at home, by setting his verses to music and singing them 
to her harp." Poor Siren ! she had her triumphs, but 
she had her troubles also, many and sore. In Professor 
Smyth's little book there is an account of a scene which, 
though it happened after her death, throws some light 
upon one side of her troubled existence. Smyth had 
been engaged as tutor to Tom after his mother's death, 
and this was one of the interferences which he had to 
submit to. Sheridan had been paying a hurried visit to 
the house at Wanstead in which Tom and his tutor lived : 

" It was a severe frost, and had been long, when he came one 
evening to dine, after his usual manner, on a boiled chicken, at 7, 8, 
or 9 o'clock, just as it happened, and had hardly drunk his claret, 
and got the room filled with wax lights, without which he could not 
exist, when he sent for me ; and, lo and behold ! the business was 
that he was miserable on account of Tom's being on the ice, that he 
would certainly be drowned, etc., and that he begged it of me as the 
greatest favour I could do him in some way or other to prevent it. 
I expostulated with him that I skated myself that I had a servant 
with a rope and ladder at the bank that the ice would now bear a 
wagon, etc., etc. ; and at last, seeing me grow half angry at his un- 
reasonableness, he acquiesced in what I said, and calling his carriage, 
as he must be at Drury Lane that night, he said (it was then eleven, 



152 RICHARD BRIXSLEY SHERIDAN. [CHAP. 

and he was nine miles off), he withdrew. In about half an hour after- 
wards, as I was going to bed, I heard a violent ringing at the gate ; 
I was wanted ; and sure enough what should I see, glaring through 
the bars, and outshining the lamps of the carriage, but the fine eyes 
of Sheridan. ' Now, do not laugh at me, Smyth,' he said, * but I can- 
not rest or think of anything but this d d ice and this skating, and 
you must promise me there shall be no more of it.' I said what may 
be supposed ; and in short was at last obliged to thrust my hand 
through the bars, which he shook violently, in token that his wishes 
should be obeyed. 'Never was such a nonsensical person as this 
father of yours,' said I to Tom. There was no difficulty in coming 
to a common vote on that point ; and so, after spending nearly an 
hour abusing him, half laughing and half crying, for I was as fond 
of skating as my pupil could be, lamenting our unhappy fate, we 
went to bed. We sent up various petitions and remonstrances while 
the frost lasted, but all in vain. ' Have a glass case constructed for 
your son at once,' said Mr. Grey to him an observation which Tom 
used to quote to me with particular approbation and delight. I 
talked over the subject of Mr. Sheridan and his idle nervousness 
with Mrs. Canning, who lived at the end of the village. She told me 
that nothing could be done that he would tease and irritate Mrs. 
Sheridan in this manner till she was ready to dash her head against 
the wall, being of the same temperament of genius as her husband ; 
that she had seen her burst into tears and leave the room ; then 
the scene changed, and the wall seemed full as likely to receive his 
head in turn. The folly, however, Mrs. Canning said, was not merely 
once and away, but was too often repeated ; and Mrs. Canning used 
sometimes, as she told me, to be not a little thankful that she was 
herself of a more ordinary clay, and that the gods, as in the case of 
Audrey, had not made her poetical" 

This perhaps is the least comprehensible part of Sher- 
idan's character. The combination of this self-tormentor, 
endowed with a faculty for extracting annoyance and 
trouble out of every new turn in his circumstances, and 
persecuting those who were dearest to him by his caprices, 
with the reckless and careless man of pleasure, is curious, 
and difficult to realise. 



v.] MIDDLE AGE. 153 

Mrs. Sheridan died in 1792. She had been taken to 
Bristol, in hopes that the change of air would do her 
good. But her time had come, and there was no hope 
for her. Her husband attended her with all the tender- 
ness and anxiety which a man, no doubt remorseful, always 
impressionable, and ready to be moved by the sight, which 
was intolerable to him, of suffering, might be supposed 
to feel, watching over her with the profoundest devotion. 
" He cannot bear to think her in danger," writes a sym- 
pathetic friend, " or that any one else should ; though he 
is as attentive and watchful as if he expected every mo- 
ment to be her last. It is impossible for any man to 
behave with greater tenderness or to feel more on such 
an occasion." He was at her bedside night and day, 
" and never left her one moment that could be avoided." 
The crisis was one in which, with his readiness of emotion 
and quick and sure response to all that touched him, he 
was sure to appear well. Moore found, among the mass 
of documents through which he had to pick his way, a 
scrap of paper evidently belonging to this period, which 
gives strange expression to that realistic and materialistic 
horror of death as death, which was one of the features of 
the time : " The loss of the breath from a beloved object 
long suffering in pain and certainty to die is not so great 
a privation as the last loss of her beautiful remains, if they 
remain so. The victory of the grave is sharper than the 
eting of death." There is something in this sentiment 
which makes us shudder. That crowning pang of sep- 
aration 

" Our lives have fallen so far apart, 

We cannot hear each other speak " 

does not strike this mourner. The contact of the bodv 

and decay, the loss of " the beautiful remains," is wnat 
L 36 



154 RICHARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAN. [CHAP. 

moves him. It is like a child's primitive horror of the 
black box and the deep hole. In his own dying hour an 
awe unspeakable stole over his face when he was informed 
that a clergyman had been sent for. These were things 
to be held at arm's -length; when he was compulsorily 
brought in contact with them the terror was almost 
greater than the anguish. 

The Linley family had suffered terribly in these years, 
one following another to the grave. There is a most 
touching description of the father given by the actress 
Mrs. Crouch which goes direct to the heart : 

" After Miss Marion Linley died it was melancholy for her to sing 
to Mr. Linley, whose tears continually fell on the keys as he accom- 
panied her ; and if in the course of her profession she was obliged 
to practise a song which he had been accustomed to hear his lost 
daughter sing, the similarity of their manner and voices, which he 
had once remarked with pleasure, then affected him to such a degree 
ihat he was frequently forced to quit his instrument and walk about 
the room to recover his composure." 

After his wife's death Sheridan's life assumed another 
phase. He had no longer the anchor, such as it was, which 
steadied him not even the tug of remorse to bring him 
home to a house where there was now no one waiting for 
him. We are indebted to Professor Smyth's narrative for 
a very graphic description of this portion of Sheridan's 
life. In the very formation of their connection the pecu- 
liarities of his future employer were at once made known 
to him. It was appointed that he should meet Sheridan 
at dinner in town, to conclude the arrangement about the 
tutorship, and to keep this appointment he came up spe- 
cially from the country. The dinner-hour was seven, but 
at nine Smyth and the friend who was to introduce him 
ate tbeir cold meal without Sheridan, who then sent to say 



v.] MIDDLE AGE. 155 

that he had been detained at the House, but would sup 
with them at midnight at the St. Alban's Tavern, whither 
they resorted, with precisely the same result. Next day, 
however, the meeting did take place, and the ruffled soul 
of the young scholar, who had been extremely indignant 
to find himself thus treated, was soothed in a few minutes 
by the engaging manner and delightful speech of his 
patron. It was at Isleworth, Sheridan's country house, 
that they met, where very lately Madame de Genlis, that 
interesting and sentimental refugee, with her lovely daugh- 
ter, Pamela, the beautiful young creature whom Mrs. 
Sheridan had bidden Lord Edward Fitzgerald to marry 
when she died, had paid him a visit. The house was dirty 
and desolate, the young observer thought, but the master 
of it the most captivating of men. His brilliant and ex- 
pressive eyes, a certain modesty in his manner, for which 
the young Don was not prepared, struck Smyth above all ; 
and he in his turn pleased the nervous and troubled 
father, who would have kept young Tom in a glass case 
had he dared. Afterwards another house was taken in 
Wanstead, in order that Sheridan's baby daughter might 
be placed under the charge of Mrs. Canning, the lady who 
had nursed Mrs. Sheridan and loved her, and who lived in 
this village; and here the boy and his tutor were sent. 
But a very short time after another blow fell upon Sher- 
idan in the person of this child, whom Professor Smyth 
describes as the loveliest child he ever saw an exceptional 
creature, whom Sheridan made a little goddess of, worship- 
ping her with every baby rite that could be thought of. 
One night the house had awoke to unwonted merriment ; 
a large childish party filled the rooms, and dancing was 
going on merrily, when Mrs. Canning suddenly flung open 
the door, crying out, "The child the child is dying!" 



166 RICHARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAN. [CHAP. 

Sheridan's grief was intense and overwhelming ; it was 
piteous to hear his moans during the terrible night that 
followed. His warm-hearted, emotional being, horrified 
and panic-stricken by the approach of death, was once 
more altogether overwhelmed. The cruel climax of blow 
after blow crushed him to the earth. 

During this time his parliamentary life was going on, 
with interruptions, sometimes brightening into flashes of 
his pristine brilliancy. But at this moment there were 
other troubles, besides those of his home and heart, to 
make his attendance irregular and withdraw his thoughts 
from public affairs. How the theatre had been going on 
all this time it is difficult to make out. We are told of 
endless embarrassments, difficulties, and trouble, of a treas- 
ury emptied wantonly, and actors left without their pay 
of pieces which failed, and audiences which diminished. 
But, on the other hand, we are informed that the pros- 
perity of Drury Lane never was greater than during this 
period, while the old theatre lasted ; and, as it was the 
only source from which Sheridan drew his income, it is 
very evident that, notwithstanding all irregularities, broken 
promises, crowds of duns, and general mismanagement, 
there was an unfailing fountain of money to be drawn 
upon. The whole story is confused. We are sometimes 
told that he was himself the manager, and it is certain that 
now and then he stooped even so far as to arrange a pan- 
tomime ; while at the same time we find the theatre un- 
der the management of King at one time, of Kemble at 
another men much better qualified than Sheridan. The 
mere fact, indeed, that the Kemble family was at that time 
on the boards of Drury Lane would seem a sufficient proof 
of the success of the theatre ; but the continually recurring 
discovery that the proprietor's pressing necessities had 



T.] MIDDLE AGE. 157 

cleared the treasury altogether was little likely to keep the 
troupe together or inspire its efforts. When any influential 
member of the company became unmanageable on this 
score Sheridan's persuasive talent was called in to make 
all right. Once, we are told, Mrs. Siddons, who had de- 
clared that she would not act until her salary was paid, 
who had resisted successively the eloquent appeals of her 
colleagues and the despair of the manager, and was calmly 
sewing at home after the curtain had risen for the piece 
in which she was expected to perform, yielded helplessly 
when Sheridan himself, all suave and irresistible, came on 
the scene, and suffered herself to be driven to the theatre 
like a lamb. On another occasion it was Kemble that 
rebelled. We are tempted to quote, for its extremely 
ludicrous character, this droll little scene. Sheridan had 
come in accidentally to join the party in the greenroom 
after the performance, and, taking his seat at the table^ 
made, as usual, a cheerful beginning of conversation. 
Kemble, however, would make no reply : 

" The great actor now looked unutterable things, and occasionally 
emitted a humming sound like that of a bee, and groaned in spirit 
inwardly. A considerable time elapsed, and frequent repetitions of 
the sound, when at length, like a pillar of state, up rose Kemble, 
and in these words addressed the astonished proprietor : ' I am an 
EAGLE, whose wings have been bound down by froste and snows, 
but now I shake my pinions and cleave into the genial air into which 
I was born !' He then deliberately resumed his seat, as if he had 
relieved himself from unsupportable thraldom." 

Undaunted by this solemn address, Sheridan drew his 
chair closer, and at the end of the prolonged sitting left 
the place not too steadily, it is to be feared arm-in-aruv 
with the exasperated eagle, whom he had made as mild 
as any mouse. He did many feats of the same kind. 



158 RICHARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAN. [CHAP. 

Once, the bankers having sternly resisted all blandish- 
ments of manager, treasurer, all the staff of the theatre, 
Sheridan went in gaily to the charge, and returned in a 
few minutes, beaming and successful, with the money they 
wanted. When he chose nobody could stand against 
him. 

Poor Mr. Smyth had a terrible life of it with this dis- 
orderly patron. His letters were neglected, his appoint- 
ments broken, his salary left unpaid. Once his pupil Tom 
was sent for in hot haste to meet his father at a certain 
roadside inn, and there waited for days if not weeks in 
vain expectation of his errant parent, leaving the unfortu- 
nate preceptor a prey to all kinds of anxiety. Another 
time the long-suffering Smyth was left at Bognor, with an 
old servant, Martha, without money or occupation, wait- 
ing for a summons to London which never came; and, 
unable at last to live any longer on credit, after letters in- 
numerable of entreaty, protestation, and wrath, went up to 
London, full of fury, determined to endure no more ; but 
was met by Sheridan with such cordial pleasure, surprise 
that he had not come sooner, and satisfaction with his 
appearance now since Tom was getting into all sorts of 
mischief that the angry tutor was entirely vanquished, 
and remorseful when he thought of the furious letter he 
had sent to this kind friend. What followed is worth 
quoting : 

" ' I wrote you a letter lately,' I said ; ' it was an angry one. You 
will be so good as to think no more of it.' ' Oh, certainly not, my 
dear Smyth,' he said ; ' I shall never think of what you have said in 
it, be assured ;' and, putting his hand in his pocket, ' Here it is,' he 
said, offering it to me. I was glad enough to get hold of it ; but look- 
ing at it as I was about to throw it into the fire, lo and behold, I saw 
that it had never been opened !" 



v.] MIDDLE AGE. 159 

Such exasperating yet ludicrous incidents were now com- 
monplaces of Sheridan's life. " Intercourse with him," says 
Professor Smyth, in a harsher mood, moved by some sting 
of bitter recollection, " was one eternal insult, mortification, 
and disappointment." There was a bag on his table into 
which all letters were stuffed indiscriminately, and in which, 
when it was turned out, an astonished applicant for debt 
or favour might see a succession of his own letters as he 
sent them, with not one seal broken ; but, to lessen the 
mortification, would find also letters enclosing money sent 
in answer, to Sheridan's own urgent applications, turned 
out in the same condition, having been stuffed with the 
rest into that hopeless waste heap. When Professor Smyth 
appealed to Sheridan's old servant to know if nothing 
could be done to remedy this, Edwards told him a piteous 
story of how he had found Mr. Sheridan's window, which 
rattled, wedged up with bank-notes, which the muddled 
reveller, returning late at night, had stuffed into the gap- 
ing sash out of his pocket. The story altogether is laugh- 
able and pitiful, a tragic comedy of the most woful fool- 
ing. He had no longer youth enough to warrant an easy 
laugh ; his reputation was going from him. He was har- 
assed by endless creditors and duns, not able to stir out 
of his house without encountering two or three waiting to 
waylay him. The first of these, if he caught Sheridan at 
a moment when his pocket had just been replenished, 
would get the amount of his bill in full, whatever the 
others might have to say. The stories are endless which 
deal with these embarrassments, and the shifts and devices 
of the struggling man were endless also. They are very 
ridiculous to hear of ; but how humiliating, miserable, and 
sickening to the heart and mind all these repetitions must 
have been ! And then, to make everything worse, the 



160 RICHARD BRIKSLEY SHERIDAN. [CHAP. 

poor old theatre fell to pieces, and the taste of the day 
demanded a costly and luxurious new building, accord- 
ing to improved fashions. The money to do this was 
raised by the manufacture of new shares, in which there 
was no difficulty but which naturally restricted the after 
profits of the original proprietors. And, what was still 
more serious, the interval occupied in the rebuilding 
during which time their profits may be said to have ceased 
altogether and the excess of the cost over the estimate, 
made an enormous difference to men who had no reserve 
to fall back upon. The company in the meantime played 
in a small theatre, at great expense, and Sheridan, profuse 
and lavish, unable to retrench, not wise enough even to 
attempt retrenchment, got deeper and deeper into debt 
and embarrassment. 

Besides all these misadventures a new and malign influ- 
ence now got possession of him. He had been presented 
to the young Prince of Wales, at a time when that illus- 
trious personage was still little more than a boy, and full, 
it was believed, of promise and hopefulness, and had grad- 
ually grown to be one of the most intimate habitues of his 
society, a devoted retainer, adviser, and defender, holding 
by him in all circumstances, and sharing the irregularities 
of his life, and the horse-play of his amusements. The 
Octogenarian, from whose rather foolish book we have 
occasionally quoted, gives a tissue of absurd stories, pro- 
fessedly heard from Sheridan's own lips r in which the ad- 
ventures of a night are recorded, and the heir-apparent is 
represented to us, in company with two statesmen, as all 
but locked up for the night at a police-station. Whether 
this was true or not, it is certain that the glamour which 
there is in the rank of a royal personage,, that dazzlement 
which so few can. resist, fell upon Sheridan. His action 



V.] MIDDLE AGE. 161 

as the adviser and representative in Parliament of this un- 
illustrious Prince was dignified and sensible ; but the orgies 
of Carlton House were, unfortunately, too much in Sher- 
idan's way to be restrained or discountenanced by him, and 
so much hope and possibility as remained in his life were 
lost in the vulgar dissipations of this depraved secondary 
court, and in the poor vanity of becoming boon compan- 
ion and buffoon to that first gentleman in Europe, whose 
florid and padded comeliness was the admiration of his 
day. It was a poor end for the great dramatist, who has 
kept thousands of his countryfolk in genial, not uninno- 
cent amusement for the last century, and for the great or- 
ator whose eloquence had disturbed the judgment of the 
most august of legislative assemblies, and shaken even the 
convictions of the hottest partisans ; but it was an end to 
which he had been for some time tending, and which, 
perhaps, the loss of his wife had made one way or other 
inevitable. 

In the mean time several events occurred which may fill 
up this division of the life of the man, as apart from that 
of the politician and orator. In 17-94 the new theatre was 
finished, and Sheridan sketched out for the opening a sort 
of extravaganza called The Glorious First of June, which 
was apparently in celebration of the naval victory of Lord 
Howe. The dialogue was not his, but merely the con- 
struction and arrangement, and, in emulation of Tilbury 
and the feats of Mr. Puff, a grand sea-fight, with finale of 
a lovers' meeting to the triumphant sounds of "Rule, 
Britannia," was introduced. The two pasteboard fleets 
rehearsed their manoeuvres under the eye of the Duke of 
Clarence, and it is to be supposed that the spectacle had a 
triumphant success. A year or two later a less agreeable 
incident occurred in the history of Drury Lane. Either 



162 RICHARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAN. [CHAP. 

deceived by the many who were ready to stake their credit 
upon the authenticity of the Ireland forgeries then given 
forth as a discovery of precious relics of Shakspeare, in- 
cluding among them a completed and unpublished play 
or deceived in his own person on the subject, one on which 
he was not learned, Sheridan accepted for the theatre this 
play, called Vortigem, and produced it with much pomp 
and magnificence. The audience was a crowded and crit- 
ical one; and the public mind was so strongly roused by 
the question that, no doubt, there was some factious feel- 
ing in the prompt and unmistakable rejection of the false 
Shakspeare, to which Kemble by his careless acting is 
said to have contributed. He had never believed in the 
discovery, and might be irritated that the decision had 
been made without consulting him. Dr. Parr, however, 
for whom Sheridan had a great respect, and with whom 
he kept up friendly relations all his life, was one of those 
who had headed the blunder, receiving the forgeries rev- 
erentially as pure Shakspeare ; and it was natural enough 
that Sheridan's judgment should have been influenced by 
a man whom he must have felt a much better authority 
on the question than himself. For he was no student of 
Shakspeare, and his prevailing recklessness was more than 
enough to counterbalance the keen critical instinct which 
produced The Critic. In all likelihood he never investi- 
gated the question at all, but calculated on a temporary 
theatrical success, without other results. " Sheridan was 
never known to offer his opinion on the matter until after 
its representation on the stage: he left the public to de- 
cide on its merits," says one of his biographers ; but the 
incident is not an agreeable one. 

It was less his fault than that of his public, perhaps, 
that the stage, shortly after recovering from the salutary 



v.] MIDDLE AGE. 163 

influence of The Critic, dropped again into bathos and the 
false heroic. " Kotzebue and German sausages are the or- 
der of the day," Sheridan himself is reported to have said 
when, with a shrug of his shoulders, he produced the 
Stranger, that culmination of the sentimental common- 
place. Everybody will remember Thackeray's delightful 
banter of this wonderful production, which has, however, 
situations so skilfully prepared and opportunities so great 
for a clever actress, that it has continued to find a place in 
the repertory of most theatres, and is still to be heard of 
as the show-piece of a wandering company, as well as 
now and then on the most ambitious boards, its dubious 
moral and un-English denouement notwithstanding. With 
Mrs. Siddons as Mrs. Haller, it may be imagined that the 
real pathos involved in the story would have full expres- 
sion. 

The success of the Stranger impelled Sheridan to another 
adaptation of a similar kind, in the tragedy of Pizarro, which 
he altered and decorated so much, it is said, as to make it 
almost his own. The bombast and clap-trap of this produc- 
tion make us regret to associate it with his name ; but here 
also the dramatic construction was good enough, and the 
situations so striking as to rivet the attention of the audi- 
ence, while the high-flown magnificence of the sentiments 
was such as always delights the multitude. When some- 
thing was said to Pitt, between whom and Sheridan a 
gradually increasing enmity had grown, about the new 
drama, the Minister answered, " If you mean what Sher- 
idan wrote, there is nothing new in it. I have heard it all 
long ago in his speeches on Hastings's trial." It is un- 
deniable that there is a good deal of truth in this, and 
that Holla's grand patriotic tirade which used to be in 
all school reading-books, as a lesson in elocution bears a 



164 RICHARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAN. [CHAP. 

strong resemblance to many passages in Sheridan's speeches. 
All this helped its popularity. Grand addresses in favour 
of patriotism are always delightful to the galleries, and 
have at all times a charm for the general imagination ; 
but in those days, when there was actual fighting going on, 
and France, who had constituted herself the pedagogue of 
the world, to teach the nations the alphabet of freedom, 
was supposed to threaten and endanger England with her 
fiery teaching, it may be supposed to what a height of 
enthusiasm these exhortations would raise the audience. 
" They follow an adventurer whom they fear, and obey a 
power which they hate; we revere a monarch whom we 
love, a God whom we adore. They boast they come but 
to improve our state, enlarge our thoughts, and free us 
from the yoke of error ! Yes ! they will give enlightened 
freedom to our minds, who are themselves the slaves of 
passion, avarice, and pride!" Whether it were under 
Robespierre or Bonaparte, the common people in England 
scorned and feared the heated neighbour -nation, which 
thought itself entitled to dictate to the world ; and no 
doubt the popular mind made a rapid adaptation of these 
heroic phrases. 

It had been hard to move the author to complete TJit 
Critic; and the reader will remember the trick of Linley 
and his coadjutors in those early days when the delays 
and evasions of the gay young man were an excellent 
jest, and their certainty of being able to put all right 
when they could lock him in with his work had some- 
thing triumphant in it. But all that was over now ; old 
Linley was dead, and a new generation, who had no wor- 
ship for Sheridan, and a very clear apprehension of the 
everlasting confusion produced by his disorderly ways, had 
taken the place of the light-hearted actors of old. But 



V.] MIDDLE AGE. 165 

notwithstanding the awe-inspiring presence of Mrs. Sid- 
dons, and the importance of her brother, the astounding 
fact that when the curtain fell upon the fourth act of 
Pizarro these theatrical potentates had not yet seen their 
parts for the fifth, which they had to study in the inter- 
val, is vouched for by various witnesses. It is bard to 
imagine the state of the actors' minds, the terrible anxiety 
of the manager, in such an extraordinary dilemma, and 
still more hard to realise the hopeless confusion in the 
mind of the man who knew all that was being risked by 
such a piece of folly, and yet could not nerve himself to 
the work till the last moment. He was drifting on the 
rapids by this time, and going headlong to ruin, heedless 
of everything, name and fame, credit and fortune, the 
good opinion of his friends, the support of the public, all 
except the indulgence of the whim of the moment, or of 
the habit which was leading him to destruction. 

He took another step about the same time which might 
perhaps have redeemed him had it been more wisely set 
about. He had met one evening, so the story goes, among 
other more important, and let us hope more well-bred peo- 
ple, a foolish, pretty girl, who, either out of flippant dislike 
to his looks, or that very transparent agacerie by which 
foolish men are sometimes attracted in the lower ranks of 
life, regarded him with exclamations of " Fright ! horrid 
creature !" and the like, something in the style, not of 
Evelina, but of Miss Burney's vulgar personages. He was 
by this time forty-four, but ready enough still to take up 
any such challenge, and either he was piqued into making 
so frank a critic change her opinions, or the prettiness and 
foolishness of the girl amused and pleased him. He set 
to work at once to make her aware that a man of middle- 
age and unhandsome aspect may yet outdo the youngest 



166 RICHARD BRIXSLEY SHERIDAN. [CHAP. 

and most attractive, and no very great time elapsed before 
he was completely successful. The lady's father was little 
pleased with the match. He was a clergyman, the Dean 
of Winchester, and might well have been indisposed to 
give his daughter and her five thousand pounds to a man 
with such a reputation. He made his consent conditional 
on the settling of fifteen thousand pounds, in addition to 
her own little fortune, upon her. Sheridan had always 
been great in financial surprises, and, to the astonishment 
of the dean, the fifteen thousand was soon forthcoming. 
He got it this time by new shares of the theatre, thus 
diminishing his receipts always a little and a little more. 
A small estate, Polesden, in Surrey, was bought with the 
money, and for a time all was gaiety and pleasure. It 
was in order to tell him of this marriage that Sheridan 
sent for his son, from his tutor and his lessons, on the 
occasion already referred to, to meet him at Guildford, at 
an inn of which he had forgotten the name. Four or five 
days after the anxious tutor received a letter from Tom. 
" My father I have never seen," wrote the lad, " and all 
that I can hear of him is that instead of dining with me 
on Wednesday last, he passed through Guildford on his 
way to town, with four horses and lamps, about twelve." 
Like father like son, the youth had remained there, though 
with only a few shillings in his pockets; but at the end 
was so " bored and wearied out " that he would have been 
glad to return even to his books. Finally, he was sent for 
to London and informed of the mystery. His letter to 
Smyth disclosing this is so characteristic that it is worth 
quoting : 

" It is not I that am to be married, nor you. Set your heart at 
rest : it is my father himself ; the lady a Miss Ogle, who lives at 
Winchester; and that is the history of the Guildford business. 



v.] MIDDLE AGE. 167 

About my own age better me to marry her, you will say. I am not 
of that opinion. My father talked to me two hours last night, and 
made out to me that it was the most sensible thing he could do. 
Was not this very clever of him ? Well, my dear Mr. S., you should 
have been tutor to him, you see. I am incomparably the most 
rational of the two." 

Moore describes the immediate result of the new mar- 
riage as a renewal of Sheridan's youth. " It is said by 
those who were in habits of intimacy with him at this 
period that they had seldom seen his spirits in a state of 
more buoyant vivacity," and there was perhaps a possi- 
bility that the new event might have proved a turning- 
point. It is unfair to blame the foolish girl, who had no 
idea what the dangers were which she had so rashly 
undertaken to deal with, that she did not reclaim or de- 
liver Sheridan. To do this was beyond her power, as it 
was beyond his own. 



CHAPTER VI. 

DECADENCE. 

SHERIDAN'S parliamentary career was long, and he took 
an important part in much of the business of the country ; 
but he never again struck the same high note as that with 
which he electrified the House on the question of the im- 
peachment of Warren Hastings. His speech in answer 
to Lord Mornington's denunciation of the Revolution in 
France, perhaps his next most important effort, was elo- 
quent and striking, but it had not the glow and glitter of 
the great oration under which the Commons of England 
held their breath. The French Revolution by this time 
had ceased to be the popular and splendid outburst of 
freedom which it had at first appeared. Opinions were 
now violently divided. The recent atrocities in France 
had scared England; and all the moving subjects which 
had inspired Sheridan before, the pictures of innocence 
outraged and the defenceless slaughtered, were now in the 
hands of his political opponents. He selected skilfully, 
however, the points which he could most effectively turn 
against them, and seizing upon Lord Mornington's descrip- 
tion of the sacrifices by which French patriotism was com- 
pelled to prove itself, the compulsory loans and services, 
the privations and poverty amid which the leaders of the 
Revolution were struggling, drew an effective picture of 



CHAP, vi.] DECADENCE. 169 

the very different state of affairs in England, which throws 
a curious light upon the political condition of the time. 
Sheridan's party had suffered many losses and defections. 
A peer in those days or a wealthy landed gentleman had 
need to be enlightened and strong-minded indeed, if not 
almost fanatical in opinion, to continue cordially on the 
side of those who were confiscating and murdering his 
equals on the other side of the Channel, and who had 
made the very order to which he belonged an offence 
against the state. The Whig nobility were no more 
stoical or heroic than other men, and the publication of 
Burke' s Reflections and his impassioned testimony against 
the uncontrollable tendencies of the Revolution had moved 
them profoundly even before the course of events proved 
his prophecies true. To make the conversion of these 
important adherents more easy, Pitt, on the other hand, 
held out his arms to them, and, as the fashion of the time 
was, posts and sinecures of all kinds rained upon the new 
converts. Sheridan, with instinctive perception of the 
mode of attack which suited his powers best, seized upon 
this with something of the same fervour as that with 
which, though in no way particularly interested in India, 
he had seized upon the story of the injured Begums and 
cruel English conquerors in the East. It was altogether 
the other side of the argument, yet the inspiration of the 
orator was the same. It was now the despoilers who were 
his clients ; but their work of destruction had not been 
to their own profit. They were sufferers, not gainers. 
No rich posts nor hidden treasures were reserved by them 
for themselves, and the contrast between the advantages 

' O 

reaped by so many Englishmen arrayed against them, and 
the sacrifices and privations of the French patriots, was 
perfect. Sheridan took up the subject with all the greater 
M 8* 37 



170 RICHARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAN. [CHAP. 

wealth and energy of indignant conviction that he himself 
had never reaped any substantial advantage from the oc- 
casional elevation of his own party. He had carried no 
spoils with him out of office ; he had not made hay while 
the sun shone. If anybody had a right to be called a dis- 
interested politician he had, in this sense at least. His 
interest in the subjects which he treated might be more 
a party interest than any real devotion to the cause of 
freedom and humanity ; but his hands were clean from 
bribe or pecuniary inducement ; and his fervour, if per- 
haps churned up a little by party motives, was never un- 
generous. The indignant bitterness with which he and 
the small party who adhered to Fox regarded the deser- 
tion of so many of their supporters gave force to the 
reply with which he met Lord Mornington's unlucky de- 
scription of the French efforts. On no other point could 
the comparison have been so completely in favour of the 
revolutionary. Sheridan takes the account of their priva- 
tions triumphantly out of the hand of the narrator. Far 
different indeed, he cries scornfully, is the position of the 
rival statesmen and officials in England. He can imagine 
the address made to them " by our prudent Minister " in 
words like the following words which burn and sting 
with all the fire of satire : 

" Do I demand of you wealthy citizens [it is Pitt who is supposed 
to be the speaker] to lend your hoards to Government without inter- 
est ? On the contrary, when I shall come to propose a loan, there 
is not a man of you to whom I shall not bold out at least a job in 
every part of the subscription, and a usurious profit upon every 
pound you devote to the necessities of your country. Do I demand 
of you, my fellow-placemen and brother-pensioners, that you should 
sacrifice any part of your stipends to the public exigency ? On the 
contrary, am I not daily insuring your emoluments, and your num- 
bers in proportion as the country becomes unable to provide fer you ? 



vi.] DECADENCE. 171 

Do I require of you, my latest and most zealous proselytes of you 
who have come over to me for the special purpose of supporting the 
war, a war on the success of which you solemnly protest that the 
salvation of Britain and of civil society itself depends do I require 
of you that you should make a temporary sacrifice in the cause of 
human nature of the greater part of your private incomes ? No, gen- 
tlemen, I scorn to take advantage of the eagerness of your zeal ; and 
to prove that I think the sincerity of your attachment to me needs 
no such test, I will make your interest co-operate with your princi- 
ple ; I will quarter many of you on the public supply, instead of call- 
ing on you to contribute to it, and while their whole thoughts are 
absorbed in patriotic apprehensions for their country, I will dexter- 
ously force upon others the favorite objects of the vanity or ambi- 
tion of their lives." 

Then the orator turns to give his own judgment of the 
state of affairs. " Good God, sir !" he cries, " that he should 
have thought it prudent to have forced this contrast upon 
our attention !" and he hurries on with indignant elo- 
quence to describe the representations made of " the un- 
precedented peril of the country," the constitution in dan- 
ger, the necessity of " maintaining the war by every pos- 
sible sacrifice," and that the people should not murmur at 
their burdens, seeing that their all was at stake : 

" The time is come when all honest and disinterested men should 
rally round the throne as round a standard for what ? Ye honest 
and disinterested men, to receive, for your own private emolument, 
a portion of those very taxes which they themselves wring from the 
people on the pretence of saving them from the poverty and distress 
which you say the enemy would inflict, but which you take care no 
enemy shall be able to aggravate. Oh, shame ! shame ! is this a time 
for selfish intrigues, and the little dirty traffic for lucre and emolu- 
ment ? Does it suit the honour of a gentleman to ask at such a mo- 
ment ? Does it become the honesty of a minister to grant ? Is it 
intended to confirm the pernicious doctrine, so industriously propa- 
gated by many, that all public men are impostors, and that every 



172 RICHARD BRIXSLEY SHERIDAN. [CHAP. 

politician has his price ? Or even where there is no principle in the 
bosom, why does not prudence hint to the mercenary and the vain 
to abstain a while at least, and wait the fitting of the times ? Im- 
provident impatience ! Nay, even from those who seem to have no 
direct object of office or profit, what is the language which the actors 
speak ? The throne is in danger ! we will support the throne ; but 
let us share the smiles of royalty. The order of nobility is in danger ! 
' I will fight for nobility,' says the viscount, ' but my zeal would be 
much greater if I were made an earl' ' Rouse all the marquis within 
me,' exclaims the earl, ' and the peerage never turned forth a more 
undaunted champion in its cause than I shall prove.' 'Stain my 
green ribbon blue,' cries out the illustrious knight, 'and the foun- 
tain of honour will have a fast and faithful servant.' " 

This scathing blast of satire must, one would think, 
have overwhelmed the Whig deserters, the new placemen 
and sinecurists, though it could not touch the impas- 
sioned soul of such a prophet as Burke, whose denuncia- 
tions and anticipations had been so terribly verified. The 
reader already acquainted with the life of Burke will re- 
member how, early in the controversy, before France had 
stained her first triumphs, Sheridan lost, on account of 
his continued faith in the Revolution, the friendship of 
his great countryman, whose fiery temper was unable to 
brook so great a divergence of opinion, and who cut him 
sternly off, as he afterwards did a more congenial and 
devoted friend, Fox, by whom the breach was acknowl- 
edged with tears in a scene as moving as ever was en- 
acted in the House of Commons. Sheridan did not feel 
it so deeply, the link between them being lighter, and the 
position of involuntary rivalship almost inevitable. And 
though it cannot be believed that his convictions on the 
subject were half so profound, or his judgment so trust- 
worthy, his was the more difficult side of opinion, and 
his fidelity to the cause, which, politically and, we may 



vi.] DECADENCE. 1YS 

even say, conventionally, was that of freedom, was un- 
wavering. The speech from which we have quoted could 
not, from its nature, be so carefully premeditated and 
prepared as Sheridan's great efforts had heretofore been; 
but it had the advantage of being corrected for the press, 
and has consequently reached us in a fuller and more 
complete form than any other of Sheridan's speeches. 
Professor Smyth gives a graphic account of his sudden 
appearance at Wanstead along with the editor of the pa- 
per in which it had been reported, and of the laborious 
diligence with which he devoted himself to its revision, 
during several days of unbroken work. But we should 
scarcely have known our Sheridan had not this spasmodic 
effort been balanced by an instance of characteristic indo- 
lence and carelessness. Lord Mornington in his speech 
had made much reference to a French pamphlet by Bris- 
sot, a translation of which had been republished in Lon- 
don, with a preface by Burke, and largely circulated. 
Smyth remarked that Sheridan accepted Lord M.'s view 
of this pamphlet, and his quotations from it. " How 
could I do otherwise?" he said. "I never read a word 
of it." Perhaps it was not necessary. The careful com- 
bination of facts and details was not in Sheridan's way ; 
but in his hap-hazard daring a certain instinct guided him, 
and he seized unerringly the thing he could do, the point 
of the position, picturesque and personal, which his fac- 
ulty could best assail. 

A far less satisfactory chapter in his life was that al- 
ready referred to, which linked Sheridan's fortunes with 
those of the Prince Regent, and made him, for a long 
time, almost the representative in Parliament of that royal 
personage. When the first illness of the King, in 1789, 
made it likely that power must come one way or other 



174 RICHARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAN. [CHAP. 

into the hands of the heir-apparent, there was much ex- 
citement, as was natural, among the party with which the 
name of the Prince of Wales was connected, and who, as 
appeared, had everything to hope from his accession, actual 
or virtual. It is scarcely necessary to our purpose to trace 
the stormy party discussions on the subject of the Regency, 
between the extreme claim put forth by Fox of the right 
of the Prince to be immediately invested with all the pow- 
ers of royalty, as his father's natural deputy and represent- 
ative, and the equally extreme counter-statement of Pitt, 
dictated by alarm, as the other was by hope, that "the 
" Prince of Wales had no more right to exercise the pow- 
ers of government than any other person in the realm." 
Sheridan's share in the debate was chiefly signalised by his 
threat, as injudicious as the original assertion of his leader, 
that " the Prince might be provoked to make the claim 
which the other party opposed so strenuously ;" " but his 
most important agency," says Moore, " lay in the less pub- 
lic business connected with " the question. He was in high 
favour at Carlton House, and the chosen adviser of the 
Prince ; and although Moore's researches enabled him to 
prove that the most important document in the whole epi- 
sode the Prince's letter to Pitt was the production, not 
of Sheridan, but of the master-spirit, Burke, Sheridan's pen 
was employed in various papers of importance ; and though 
the post allotted to him in the shortlived new ministry 
was no more than that of Treasurer of the Navy, a posi- 
tion not at all adequate to his apparent importance, he 
was in reality a very active agent behind the scenes. The 
King's speedy recovery, however, at this moment was fatal 
to Sheridan's fortunes, and all that came of this momen- 
tary gleam of advancement to his family was that Charles 
Sheridan, in Ireland, whose post had been the only gain 



vi.] DECADENCE. 175 

of his brother's former taste of power, lost it in conse- 
quence of the new re-revolution of affairs, though he car- 
ried with him a pension of 1200 a year probably a very 
good substitute. He was the only one profited in pocket 
by Sheridan's political elevation and fame. Once more, 
in 1806, after the death of Pitt, Sheridan followed Fox 
into office in the same unimportant post of Treasurer to 
the Navy. But Fortune was not on his side, and Fox's 
death in a few months withdrew him for ever from all 
the chances of power. 

It seems inconceivable, though true, that the two great 
orators of the period, the men whose figures stand prom- 
inent in every discussion, and one of whom at least had 
so large and profound an influence on his time, should, 
when their party rose to the head of affairs, have been 
so unceremoniously disposed of. Sheridan's insignificant 
post might be accounted for by his known incapacity 
for continued exertion ; but to read the name of Burke 
as Paymaster of the Forces fills the reader with amaze- 
ment. They were both self-made, without family or con- 
nections to found a claim upon, but the eminence, espe- 
cially of the latter, was incontestable. Both were of the 
highest importance to their party, and Sheridan was in the 
enjoyment of that favour of the Prince which told for so 
much in those days. And yet this was the best that their 
claims could secure. It is a somewhat humiliating proof 
of how little great mental gifts, reaching the height of 
genius in one case, can do for their possessor. Both 
Burke and Sheridan are favourite instances of the reverse 
opinion. It is a commonplace to quote them as examples 
of the manner in which a man of genius may raise himself 
to the highest elevation. And yet, after they had dazzled 
England for years, one of them the highest originating 



176 RICHARD BRIXSLEY SHERIDAN. [CHAP. 

soul, the profoundest thinker of his class, the other an un- 
rivalled instrument at least in the hand of a great party 
leader, this was all they could attain to Edmund Burke, 
Paymaster of the Forces ; Brinsley Sheridan, Treasurer 
of the Navy. It is a curious commentary upon the un- 
bounded applause and reputation which these two men 
enjoyed in their day, and the place they have taken 
permanently in the history of their generation. 

Sheridan's connection with the Prince lasted for many 
years. He appears to have been not only one of his 
favourite companions, but for some time at least his most 
confidential adviser. When the Prince on his marriage 
put forth a second demand for the payment of his debts, 
after the distinct promise made on the first occasion that 
no such claim should be made again, it was Sheridan who 
was the apologist, if apology his explanation can be called. 
He informed the House that he had advised the Prince to 
make no such pledge, but that it was inserted without the 
knowledge of either, and at a moment when it was im- 
possible to withdraw from it. He added that he himself 
had drawn up a scheme of retrenchment which would 
have made such an application unnecessary, that he had 
put a stop to a loan proposed to be raised for the Prince 
in France, as unconstitutional, and that he had systemati- 
cally counselled an abstinence from all meddling in great 
political questions. Moore characterises this explanation 
as marked by "a communicativeness that seemed hardly 
prudent," and it is difficult to suppose that Sheridan's 
royal patron could have liked it ; but he did not disown 
it in any way, and retained the speaker in his closest con- 
fidence for many years, during which Sheridan's time and 
pen and ready eloquence were always at his master's ser- 
vice. There is a strange mixture throughout his history 



vi.] DECADENCE. 177 

of serviceableness and capacity for work, with an almost 
incredible carelessness and indolence, of which his be- 
haviour at this period affords a curious example. He 
would seem to have spared no trouble in the Prince's 
service, to have been ready at his call at all times and 
seasons, conducting the most important negotiations for 
him, and acting as the means of communication between 
him and the leaders of his party. Perhaps pride and a 
gratified sense of knowing the mind of the heir-apparent 
better than any one else, may have supplied the place of 
true energy and diligence for the moment ; and certainly 
he was zealous and busy in his patron's affairs, disorderly 
and indifferent as he was in his own. And though his 
power and influence were daily decreasing in Parliament, 
his attendance becoming more and more irregular, and his 
interest in public business capricious and fitful, yet there 
were still occasions on which Sheridan came to the front 
with an energy and spirit worthy of his best days. One 
of these was at the time of the great mutiny at the Nore, 
when the ministry was embarrassed on all hands, the Op- 
position violently factious, and every appearance alarming. 
Sheridan threw himself into the midst of the excitement 
with a bold and generous support of the Government, 
which strengthened their hands in the emergency and 
did much to restore tranquillity and confidence. "The 
patriotic promptitude of his interference," says Moore, 
" was even more striking than it appears in the record of 
his parliamentary labours." By this time Fox had with- 
drawn from the House, and no other of the Whig leaders 
showed anything of Sheridan's energy and public spirit 
At a still later period, in the course of a discussion on the 
army estimates, he was complimented by Canning as " a 
man who had often come forward in times of public em- 



178 RICHARD BRIKSLEY SHERIDAN. [CHAP. 

barrassment as the champion of the country's rights and 
interests, and had rallied the hearts and spirits of the na- 
tion." The warmest admirer of Sheridan might be con- 
tent to let such words as these stand as the conclusion of 
his parliamentary career. 

Thus his life was checkered with bursts of recovery, 
with rapid and unexpected manifestations of power. 
Now and then he would rise to the height of a crisis, and 
by moments display a faculty prompt and eager and prac- 
tical. Sometimes, on a special occasion, he would work 
hard, "till the motes were in his eyes." There must have 
been in him some germ of financial genius which enabled 
him without any capital to acquire great property, and 
conduct what was in reality a large commercial speculation 
in his theatre with success for many years. All these 
qualities are strangely at variance with the background of 
heedlessness, indolence, and reckless self-indulgence which 
take both credit and purpose out of his life. He is like 
two men, one of them painfully building up what the 
other every day delights to pull down. His existence 
from the time of his wife's death seems, when we look 
back upon it, like a headlong rush to destruction ; and 
yet even in the last chapter of his career there were times 
when he would turn and stand and present a manful front 
to fate. Though there is no appearance in anything he 
says or does of very high political principles, yet he held 
steadfastly by the cause of reform, and for the freedom 
of the subject, and against all encroachments of power, as 
long as he lived. He was on the side of Ireland in the 
troubles then as always existing, though of a changed com- 
plexion from those we are familiar with now. He would 
not allow himself to be persuaded out of his faith in 
the new principle of freedom in France, either by the 



vi.J DECADENCE. W 

excesses which disgraced it, or by the potent arguments 
of his friend and countryman. And he was disinterested 
and faithful in his party relations, giving up office almost 
unnecessarily when he considered that his political alle- 
giance required it, and holding fast to his leader even when 
there was estrangement between them. All these partic- 
ulars should be remembered to Sheridan's credit. He got 
nothing for his political services, at a time when sine- 
cures were common, and, with one exception, kept his 
political honour stainless, and never departed from his 
standard. 

He served the Prince in the same spirit of disinter- 
estedness a disinterestedness so excessive that it looks 
like recklessness and ostentatious indifference to ordinary 
motives. That gratification in the confidence of royalty, 
which in all ages has moved men to sacrifices and labours 
not undertaken willingly in any other cause, seems a poor 
sort of inspiration when Royal George was the object of it ; 
but in this case it was like master like man, and the boon 
companion whose wit enlivened the royal orgies was not 
likely perhaps to judge his Prince by any high ideal. He 
had never received from his royal friend " so much as the 
present of a horse or a picture," until in the year 1 804 the 
appointment of Receiver of the Duchy of Cornwall was 
conferred upon him, an appointment which he announces 
to the then Minister, Mr. Addington, with lively satisfac- 
tion and gratitude : 

" It has been my pride and pleasure," he says, " to have exerted 
my humble efforts to serve the Prince without ever accepting the 
slightest obligation from him ; but in the present case and under the 
present circumstances I think it would have been really false pride 
and apparently mischievous affectation to have declined this mark 
of his Royal Highness's confidence and favour." 



180 RICHARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAN. [CHAP. 

It was no great return for so many services ; and even 
this was not at first a satisfactory gift, since it had been 
previously bestowed (hypothetically) on some one else, 
and a long correspondence and many representations and 
explanations seem to have been exchanged before Sher- 
idan was secure in his post the only profit he car- 
ried with him out of his prolonged and brilliant politi- 
cal life. 

The one instance, which has been referred to, in which 
his political loyalty was defective occurred very near the 
end of his career. Fox was dead, to whom, though some 
misunderstanding had clouded their later intercourse, he 
had always been faithful, and other leaders had succeeded 
in the conduct of the party, leaders with whom Sheridan 
had less friendship and sympathy, and who had thwarted 
him in his wish to succeed Fox as the representative of 
Westminster, an honour on which he had set his heart. 
It was in favour of a young nobleman of no account in 
the political world that the man who had so long been 
an ornament to the party, and had in his day done it such 
manful service, was put aside ; and Sheridan would have 
been more than mortal had he not felt it deeply. The 
opportunity of avenging himself occurred before long. 
When the Prince, his patron, finally came to the position 
of Regent, under many restrictions, and with an almost 
harsh insistence upon the fact that he held the office not 
by right, but by the will of Parliament, Sheridan had one 
moment of triumph a triumph almost whimsical in its 
completeness. In the ordinary course of affairs it became 
the duty of the Lords Grey and Granville, the recognised 
leaders of the Whig party, which up to this time had been 
the party specially attached to the Prince, to prepare his 
reply to the address presented to him by the Houses of 



VL] DECADENCE. 181 

Parliament ; but the document, when submitted to him, 
was not to the royal taste. Sheridan, in the meanwhile, 
who knew all the thoughts of his patron and how to please 
him, had prepared privately, almost accidentally, according 
to his own account, a draft of another reply, which the 
Prince adopted instead, to the astonishment and indignant 
dismay of the official leaders, who could scarcely believe 
in the possibility of such an interference. Moore enters 
into a lengthened explanation of Sheridan's motives and 
conduct, supported by his own letters and statements, of 
which there are so many that it is very apparent he was 
himself conscious of much necessity for explanation. The 
great Whig Lords, who thus found themselves superseded, 
made an indignant remonstrance ; but the mischief was 
done. In the point of view of party allegiance the pro- 
ceeding was indefensible ; and yet we cannot but think 
the reader will feel a certain sympathy with Sheridan in 
this sudden turning of the tables upon the men who had 
slighted him and ignored his claims. They were new men, 
less experienced than himself, and the dangerous gratifica- 
tion of showing that, in spite of all they might do, he had 
still the power to forestall and defeat them, must have 
been a very strong temptation. But such gratifications are 
of a fatal kind. Sheridan himself, even at the moment of 
enjoying it, must have been aware of the perilous step he 
was taking. And it is another proof of the curious mixt- 
ure of capacity for business and labour which existed in 
him along with the most reckless indolence and forgetful- 
ness, that the literature of this incident is so abundant ; 
and that, what with drafts prepared for the Prince's con- 
sideration, and letters and documents of state corrected 
for his adoption, and all the explanatory addresses on his 
own account which Sheridan thought necessary, he was as 



182 RICHARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAN. [CHAP. 

fully employed at this crisis as if he had been a Secretary 
of State. 

This or anything like it he was not, however, fated to 
be. A humbler appointment, that of Chief Secretary, un- 
der the Lord-lieutenant of Ireland, had been designed for 
him had the Whig party, as they anticipated, come into 
office ; although, after the mortification to which Sheridan 
had subjected his noble chiefs, even such an expedient of 
getting honourably rid of him might have been more than 
their magnanimity was equal to. But these expectations 
faded as soon as the Regent was firmly established in his 
place. The Prince, as is well known, pursued the course 
common to heirs on their accession, and flung over the 
party of Opposition to which he had previously attached 
himself. The Whigs were left in the lurch, and their po- 
litical opponents continued in power. That Sheridan had 
a considerable share in bringing this about seems evident ; 
but in punishing them he punished also himself. If he 
could not serve under them, it was evidently impossible 
that under the other party he could with any regard to his 
own honour serve. There is an account in the anonymous 
biography to which reference has been made of an attempt 
on the part of the Prince to induce Sheridan to follow him- 
self in his change of politics; but this has an apocryphal 
aspect, as the report of a private conversation between two 
persons, neither very likely to repeat it, always has. It is 
added that, after Sheridan's refusal, he saw no more of his 
royal patron. Anyhow it would seem that the intercourse 
between them failed after this point. The brilliant instru- 
ment had done its service, and was no longer wanted. To 
please his Prince, and perhaps to avenge himself, he had 
broken his allegiance to his party, and henceforward neither 
they whom he had thus deserted, nor he for whom he had 



TL] DECADENCE. 183 

deserted them, had any place or occasion for him. He 
continued to appear fitfully in his place in Parliament for 
some time after, and one of his latest speeches gives ex- 
pression to his views on the subject of Catholic Emanci- 
pation. Sheridan's nationality could be little more than 
nominal, yet his interest in Irish affairs had always been 
great, and he had invariably supported the cause of that 
troubled country in all emergencies. In this speech, which 
was one of the last expressions of his opinions on an Irish 
subject, he maintains that the good treatment of the 
Catholics was " essential to the safety of this empire " : 

"I will never give my vote to any Administration that opposes the 
question of Catholic Emancipation. I will not consent to receive a 
furlough upon that particular question, even though a ministry were 
carrying every other I wished. In fine, I think the situation of Ire- 
land a permanent consideration. If they were to be the last words 
I should ever utter in this House I should say, 'Be just to Ireland 
as you value your own honour ; be just to Ireland as you value your 
own peace.' " 

In this point at least he showed true discernment, and 
was no false prophet. 

The last stroke of evil fortune had, however, fallen upon 
Sheridan several years before the conclusion of his par- 
liamentary life, putting what was in reality the finishing 
touch to his many and long -continued embarrassments. 
One evening in the early spring of the year 1809 a sud- 
den blaze illuminated the House of Commons in the midst 
of a debate, lighting up the assembly with so fiery and 
wild a light that the discussion was interrupted in alarm. 
Sheridan was present in his place, and when the intima- 
tion was made that the blaze came from Drury Lane, and 
that his new theatre, so lately opened, and still scarcely 
completed, was the fuel which fed this fire, it must have 



184 RICHAKD BRIXSLEY SHERIDAN. [CHAP. 

been a pale countenance indeed upon which that fiery il- 
lumination shone ; but he had never failed in courage, and 
this time the thrill of desperation must have moved the 
man whose ruin was thus accomplished. When some 
scared member, perhaps with a tender thought for the 
orator who had once in that place stood so high, proposed 
the adjournment of the House, Sheridan, with the proud 
calm which such a highly-strained nature is capable of in 
great emergencies, was the first to oppose the impulse. 
" Whatever might be the extent of the calamity," he said, 
" he hoped it would not interfere with the public business 
of the country." He left bis brother members to debate 
the war in Spain, while he went forth to witness a catas- 
trophe which made the further conduct of any struggle in 
his own person an impossibility. Some time later he was 
found seated in one of the coffee-houses in Covent Garden, 
" swallowing port by the tumblerful," as one witness says. 
One of the actors, who had been looking on at the scene 
of destruction, made an indignant and astonished outcry 
at sight of him, when Sheridan, looking up, with the wild 
gaiety of despair and that melancholy humour which so 
often lights up a brave man's ruin, replied, " Surely a man 
may be allowed to take a glass of wine by his own fire- 
side." The blaze which shone upon these melancholy 
potations consumed everything he had to look to in the 
world. He was still full of power to enjoy, a man not 
old in years, and of the temperament which never grows 
old; but he must have seen everything that made life 
possible flying from him in those thick -coiling wreaths 
of smoke. There was still his parliamentary life and his 
Prince's favour to fall back upon, but probably in that 
dark hour his better judgment showed him that every- 
thing was lost 



VI.] DECADENCE. 185 

After the moment of disaster, however, Sheridan's buojr 
ant nature and that keen speculative faculty which would 
seem to have been so strong in him, awoke with all the 
fervour of the rebound from despair, as he began to see a 
new hope. In a letter addressed to Mr. Whitbread, written 
soon after the fire, and with the high compliment that he 
considered Whitbread " the man living in my estimation 
the most disposed and the most competent to bestow a 
portion of your time and ability to assist the call of friend- 
ship," he thus appeals to his kindness : 

"You said some time since, in my house, but in a careless conver- 
sation only, that you would be a member of a committee for rebuild- 
ing Drury Lane Theatre, if it would serve me ; and indeed you very 
kindly suggested yourself that there were more persons to assist that 
object than I was aware of. I most thankfully accept the offer of 
your interference, and am convinced of the benefits your friendly 
exertions are competent to produce. I have worked the whole sub- 
ject in my own mind, and see a clear way to retrieve a great property, 
at least to my son and his family, if my plan meets the support I 
hope it will appear to merit. 

" Writing this to you in the sincerity of private friendship and the 
reliance I place on my opinion of your character, I need not ask of 
you, though eager and active in politics as you are, not to be severe 
in criticising my palpable neglect of all parliamentary duty. It would 
not be easy to explain to you, or even to make you comprehend, or 
any one in prosperous and affluent plight, the private difficulties I 
have to struggle with. My mind and the resolute independence be- 
longing to it has not been in the least subdued by the late calamity ; 
but the consequences arising from it have more engaged and em- 
barrassed me than perhaps I have been willing to allow. It has been 
a principle of my life, persevered in through great difficulties, never 
to borrow money of a private friend ; and this resolution I would 
starve rather than violate. When I ask you to take part in this set- 
tlement of ray shattered affairs I ask you only to do so after a pre- 
vious investigation of every part of the past circumstances which re- 
late to the truth. I wish you to accept, in conjunction with those 
N 9 SS 



186 RICHARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAN. [CHAP. 

who wish to serve me, and to whom I think you would not object. I 
may \>e again seized with an illness as alarming as that I lately ex- 
perienced. Assist me in relieving my mind from the greatest afflic- 
tion that such a situation can again produce the fear of others 
suffering by my death." 

Sheridan's proposal was, that the theatre should be re- 
built by subscription by a committee under the chair- 
manship of Whitbread, he himself and his son receiving 
from them an equivalent in money for their share of the 
property under the patent. This was done accordingly. 
Sheridan's share amounted to 24,000, while his son got 
the half of that sum. But the money which was to take 
the place of the income which Sheridan had so long drawn 
from the theatre was, it is needless to say, utterly inade- 
quate, and was ingulfed almost immediately by payments. 
Indeed, the force of circumstances and his necessities com- 
pelled him to use it, as he might have used a sum inde- 
pendent of his regular income which had fallen into his 
hand. Whitbread was not to be dealt with now as had 
been the world in general in Sheridan's brighter days. 
" He was, perhaps," says Moore, " the only person whom 
Sheridan had ever found proof against his powers of per- 
suasion ;" and as in the long labyrinth of engagements 
which Sheridan no more expected to be held closely to 
than he would himself have held to a bargain, he had 
undertaken to wait for his money until the theatre was 
rebuilt, there were endless controversies and struggles over 
every demand he made : and they were many. Sheridan 
had pledged himself also to non-interference, to " have no 
concern or connection of any kind whatever with the new 
undertaking," with as little idea of being held to the 
pledge ; and when his criticisms upon the plans, and at- 
tempts to alter them, were repulsed, and the promises he 



n.] DECADENCE. 187 

had made recalled to his memory, his indignation knew no 
bounds. " There cannot exist in England," he cries, " an 
individual so presumptuous or so void of common-sense as 
not sincerely to solicit the aid of ray practical experience 
on this occasion, even were I not in justice to the sub- 
scribers bound to offer it." In short, it is evident that he 
never had faced the position at all, but expected to remain 
to some extent at the head of affairs as of old, and with 
an inexhaustible treasury to draw upon, although he had 
formally renounced all claim upon either. When he 
wrote indignantly to Whitbread as to an advance of 
2000 which had been refused to him, and of which he 
declared that " this and this alone lost me my election " 
(to Stafford, whither he had returned after his failure at 
Westminster), Whitbread replied in a letter which paints 
the condition of the unfortunate man beset by creditors 
with the most pitiful distinctness : 

" You will recollect the 5000 pledged to Peter Moore to answer 
demands ; the certificates given to Giblet, Ker, Iremonger, Cross, and 
Hirdle, five each at your request ; the engagements given to Ettes 
and myself, and the arrears to the Linley family. All this taken 
into consideration will leave a large balance still payable to you. 
Still there are upon that balance the claims upon you of Shaw, Tay- 
lor, and Grubb, for all of which you have offered to leave the whole 
of your compensation in my hand to abide the issue of arbitration." 

Poor Sheridan ! he had meant to eat his cake yet have 
it, as is so common. In his wonderful life of shifts and 
chances he had managed to do so again and again. But 
the moment had come when it was no more practicable, 
and neither persuasion nor threats nor indignation could 
move the stern man of business to whom he had so lately 
appealed as the man of all others most likely to help and 
succour. He was so deeply wounded by the management 



188 RICHARD BRINSLE7 SHERIDAN. [CHAP. 

of the new building and all its arrangements that he would 
not permit his wife to accept the box which had been 
offered for her use by the committee, and it was a long 
time before he could be persuaded so much as to enter the 
theatre with which his whole life had been connected. It 
was for the opening of this new Drury Lane that the com- 
petition of Opening Addresses was called for by the new 
proprietors, which has been made memorable by the " Re- 
jected Addresses" of Horace and James Smith, one of the 
few burlesques which have taken a prominent place in lit- 
erature. It was a tradesmanlike idea to propose such a 
competition to English poets, and the reader will willingly 
excuse the touch of bitterness in Sheridan's witty descrip- 
tion of the Ode contributed by Whitbread himself, which, 
like most of the addresses, " turned chiefly on allusions to 
the phoenix." "But Whitbread made more of the bird 
than any of them," Sheridan said ; " he entered into par- 
ticulars and described its wings, beak, tail, etc. ; in short, 
it was a poulterer's description." 

It was while he was involved in these painful contro- 
versies and struggles that Sheridan lost his seat in Parlia- 
ment. This was the finishing blow. His person, so long 
as he was a member of Parliament, was at least safe. He 
could not be arrested for debt ; everything else that could 
be done had been attempted, but this last indignity was 
impossible. Now, however, that safeguard was removed ; 
and for this among other reasons his exclusion from Par- 
liament was to Sheridan the end of all things. His pres- 
tige was gone, his power over. It would seem to be 
certain that the Prince of Wales offered to bring him in 
for a Government borough ; but Sheridan had not fallen 
so low as that. Once out of Parliament, however, the old 
lion was important to nobody. He could neither help to 



TL] EECADENCE. 153 

pass a measure nor bring his eloquence to the task of 
smothering one. He was powerless henceforward in state 
intrigues, neither good to veil a prince's designs nor to aid 
a party movement. And, besides, he was a poor, broken- 
down, dissipated old man, a character meriting no respect, 
and for whom pity itself took a disdainful tone. He had 
not been less self-indulgent when the world vied in admi- 
ration and applause of him ; but all his triumphs had now- 
passed away, and what had been but the gay excess of an 
exuberant life became the disgraceful habit of a broken 
man. His debts, which had been evaded and put out of 
sight so often, sprang up around him, no more to be 
eluded. Once he was actually arrested and imprisoned 
in a sponging-house for two or three days, a misery and 
shame which fairly overcame the fortitude of the worn- 
out and fallen spirit. " On his return home," Moore tells 
us (some arrangements having been made by Whitbread 
for his release), " all his fortitude forsook him, and he 
burst into a long and passionate fit of weeping at the prof- 
anation, as he termed it, which his person had suffered." 
Leigh Hunt, in his flashy and frothy article, has some 
severe remarks upon this exhibition of feeling, but few 
people will wonder at it. Sheridan had been proud in 
his way ; he had carried his head high. His own great 
gifts had won him a position almost unparalleled ; he had 
been justified over and over again in the fond faith that 
by some happy chance, some half miraculous effort, his 
fortunes might still be righted and all go well. Alas ! all 
this was over, hope and possibility were alike gone. Like 
a man running a desperate race, half stupefied in the rush 
of haste and weariness, of trembling limbs and panting 
bosom, whose final stumble overwhelms him with the pas- 
sion of weakness, here was the point in which every horror 



190 RICHARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAN. [CHAP. 

culminated and every power broke down. The sanguine, 
foolish bravery of the man was such even then that next 
moment he was calculating upon the possibility of re-elec- 
tion for Westminster, a seat which was one of the prizes 
sought by favourites of fortune ; and, writing to his solici- 
tor after his personal possessions, pictures, books, and nick- 
nacks, had been sacrificed, comforted him with a cheerful 
" However, we shall come through !" 

Poor Sheridan ! the heart bleeds to contemplate him in 
all his desperate shifts, now maudlin in tears, now wild in 
foolish gaiety and hope. Prince and party alike left him 
to sink or swim as he pleased. When it was told him that 
young Byron, the new hero of society, had praised him 
as the writer of the best comedy, the best opera, the best 
oration of his time, the veteran burst into tears. A com- 
pliment now was an unwonted delight to one who had 
received the plaudits of two generations, and who had 
moved men's minds as few besides had been able to do. 
A little band of friends, very few and of no great renown, 
were steadfast to him Peter Moore, M.P. for Coventry, 
Samuel Rogers, his physician, Dr. Bain, he who had at- 
tended the death-bed of Mrs. Sheridan stood by him faith- 
fully through all ; but he passed through the difficulties 
of his later years, and descended into the valley of the 
shadow of death, deserted, but for them, by all who had 
professed friendship for him. Lord Holland, indeed, is 
said to have visited him once, and the Duke of Kent wrote 
him a polite, regretful letter when he announced his in- 
ability to attend a meeting ; but not even an inquiry came 
from Carlton House, and all the statesmen whom he had 
offended, and those to whom he had long been so faithful 
a colleague, deserted him unanimously. When the trou- 
bles of his later life culminated in illness a more forlorn 



vi.] DECADENCE. 191 

being did not exist. He had worn out bis excellent con- 
stitution with hard living and continual excesses. Oceans 
of potent port had exhausted his digestive organs ; he had 
no longer either the elasticity of youth to endure, or its 
hopeful prospects to bear him up. He was, indeed, still 
cheerful, sanguine, full of plans and new ideas for " get- 
ing through," till the very end. But this had long been 
a matter beyond hope. His last days were harassed by 
all the miseries of poverty nay, by what is worse, the 
miseries of indebtedness. That he should starve was im- 
possible ; but he had worse to bear, he had to encounter 
the importunities of creditors whom he could not pay, 
some at least of whom were perhaps as much to be pitied 
as himself. He was not safe night nor day from the as- 
saults of the exasperated or despairing. " Writs and execu- 
tions came in rapid succession, and bailiffs at length gained 
possession of his house." That house was denuded of 
everything that would sell in it, and the chamber in which 
he lay dying was threatened, and in one instance at least 
invaded by sheriff's officers, who would have carried him 
off wrapped in his blankets, had not Dr. Bain interfered, 
and warned them that his life was at stake. One evening 
Rogers, on returning home late at night, found a despair- 
ing appeal on his table. "I find things settled so that 
150 will remove all difficulty; I am absolutely undone 
and broken-hearted. I shall negotiate for the plays suc- 
cessfully in the course of a week, when all shall be re- 
turned. They are going to put the carpets out of the 
window and break into Mrs. S.'s room and take me. For 
God's sake let me see you." Moore was with Rogers, and 
vouches for this piteous demand on his own authority. 
The two poets turned out after midnight to Sheridan's 
Vouse, and spoke over the area rails to a servant, who as- 



192 RICHARD BRIXSLEY SHERIDAN. [CHAP. 

cured them that all was safe for the night. Miserable 
crisis so often repeated ! In the morning the money was 
sent by the hands of Moore, who gives this last description 
of the unfortunate and forsaken : 

" I found Mr. Sheridan good-natured and cordial, and though he 
was then within a few weeks of his death his voice had iiot lost its 
fulness or strength, nor was that lustre for which his eyes were so 
remarkable diminished. He showed, too, his usual sanguineness of 
disposition in speaking of the price he expected for his dramatic 
works, and of the certainty he felt of being able to manage all his 
affairs, if his complaint would but suffer him to leave his bed." 

Moore adds, with natural indignation, that during the 
whole of his lingering illness "it does not appear that 
any one of his noble or royal friends ever called at his 
door, or even sent to inquire after him." 

At last the end came. When the Bishop of London, 
sent for by Mrs. Sheridan, came to visit the dying man, 
she told Mr. Smyth that such a paleness of awe came over 
his face as she could never forget. He had never taken 
time or thought for the unseen, and the appearance of the 
priest, like a forerunner of death itself, stunned and star- 
tled the man whose life had been occupied with far other 
subjects. But he was not one to avoid any of the decent 
and becoming preliminaries that custom had made indis- 
pensable nay, there was so much susceptibility to emo- 
tion in him, that no doubt he was able to find comfort in 
the observances of a death-bed, even though his mind was 
little accustomed to religious thought or observance. Noth- 
ing more squalid, more miserable and painful, than the 
state of his house outside of the sick-chamber could be. 
"When Smyth arrived in loyal friendship and pity to see 
his old patron he found the desecrated place in possession 
of bailiffs, and everything in the chill disorder which such 



vi.] DECADENCE. 193 

a miserable invasion produces. Poor Mrs. Sheridan, meet- 
ing him with a kind of sprightly despair, suggested that 
he must want food after his journey. "I dare say you 
think there is nothing to be had in such a house; but we 
are not so bad as that," she cried. The shocked and sym- 
pathetic visitor had little heart to eat, as may be supposed, 
and he was profoundly moved by the description of that 
pale awe with which Sheridan had resigned himself to the 
immediate prospect of death. 

In the mean time, some one outside possibly Moore 
himself, though he does not say so had written a letter to 
the Morning Post, calling attention to the utter desertion 
in which Sheridan had been left : 

" Oh, delay not !" said the writer, without naming the person to 
whom he alluded [we quote from Moore] " delay not to draw aside 
the curtain within which that proud spirit hides its sufferings." He 
then adds, with a striking anticipation of what afterwards happened : 
" Prefer ministering in the chamber of sickness to mustering at 

' The splendid sorrows that adom the hearse.' 

" I say life and succour against Westminster Abbey and a funeral. 
This article " [Moore continues] " produced a strong and general im- 
pression, and was reprinted in the same paper the following day." 

So unusual a fact proves the interest which Sheridan 
still called forth in the public mind. It had so much ef- 
fect that various high-sounding names were heard again 
at Sheridan's door among the hangers-on of the law and 
the disturbed and terrified servants, who did not know 
when an attempt might be made upon their master's per- 
son, dying or dead. The card even of the Duke of York, 
the inquiries of peers or wealthy commoners, to whom it 
would have been so easy to conjure all Sheridan's assail- 
ants away, could no longer help or harm him. After a 
9* 



194 RICHARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAN. [CHAP. 

period of unconsciousness, on a Sunday in July, in the 
height of summer and sunshine, this great ministrant to 
the amusement of the world, this orator who had swayed 
them with his breath, died, like the holder of a besieged 
castle, safe only in the inmost citadel, beset with eager 
foes all ready to rush in, and faithful servants glad that 
he should hasten out of the world and escape the last in- 
dignity. Among the many lessons of the vicissitudes of 
life with which we are all familiar there never was any 
more effective. It is like one of the strained effects of 
the stage, to which Sheridan's early reputation belonged ; 
and like a curious repetition of his early and sudden fame, 
or rather like the scornful commentary upon it of some 
devilish cynic permitted for the moment to scoff at man- 
kind, is the apotheosis of his conclusion. The man who 
was hustled into his coffin to escape the touch which he 
had dreaded so much in life, that profanation of his per- 
son which had moved him to tears and hastily carried 
forth in the night to the shelter of his friend's house, that 
he might not be arrested, dead was no sooner covered 
with the funeral pall than dukes and princes volunteered 
to bear it. Two royal highnesses, half the dukes and earls 
and barons of the peerage, followed him in the guise of 
mourning to Westminster Abbey, where among the great- 
est names of English literature, in the most solemn and 
splendid shrine of national honour, this spendthrift of 
genius, this prodigal of fame, was laid for the first time 
in all his uneasy being to secure and certain rest. He had 
been born in obscurity he died in misery. Out of the 
humblest, unprovided, unendowed poverty he had blazed 
into reputation, into all the results of great wealth, if 
never to its substance ; more wonderful still, he had risen 
to public importance and splendour, and his name can 



vi.] DECADENCE. 195 

never be obliterated from the page of history; but had 
fallen again, down, down into desertion, misery, and the 
deepest degradation of a poverty for which there was nei- 
ther hope nor help : till death wiped out all possibilities 
of further trouble or embarrassment, and Sheridan became 
once more in his coffin the great man whom his party 
delighted to honour a national name and credit, one of 
those whose glory illustrates our annals. It may be per- 
mitted now to doubt whether these last mournful honours 
were not more than his real services to England deserved ; 
but at the moment it was, no doubt, a fine thing that the 
poor, hopeless "Sherry" whom everybody admired and 
despised, whom no one but a few faithful friends would 
risk the trouble of helping, who had sunk away out of all 
knowledge into endless debts, and duns, and drink, should 
rise in an instant as soon as death had stilled his troubles 
into the Right Honourable, brilliant, and splendid Sher- 
idan, whose enchanter's wand the stubborn Pitt had bowed 
under, and the noble Burke acknowledged with enthusi- 
asm. It was a fine thing ; but the finest thing was that 
death, which in England makes all glory possible, and 
which restores to the troublesome bankrupt, the unfortu- 
nate prodigal, and all stray sons of fame, at one stroke, 
their friends, their reputation, and the abundant tribute 
which it might have been dangerous to afford them living, 
but with which it is both safe and prudent to glorify their 
tomb. So Scotland did to Burns, letting him suffer all 
the tortures of a proud spirit for want of a ten-pound 
note, but sending a useless train of local gentry to attend 
him to his grave and so the Whig peers and potentates 
did to Sheridan, who had been their equal and companion. 
Such things repeat themselves in the history of the gen- 
erations, but no one takes the lesson, though every one 



196 EICHARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAN. [CHAP. 

comments upon it. Men of letters have ceased, to a great 
extent, to be improvident and spendthrifts, and seldom 
require to be picked out of ruin by their friends and dis- 
ciples in these days ; but who can doubt that, were there 
another Sheridan amongst us, his fate would be the 
<sarne ? 

It has to be added, however, that had the great people 
who did nothing for him stepped in to relieve Sheridan 
and prolong his life, nothing is more probable than that 
the process would have had to be repeated from time to 
time, as was done for Lamartine in France, since men do 
not learn economy, or the wise use of their means, after a 
long life of reckless profusion. But he had gained noth- 
ing by his political career, in which most of the politicians 
of the time gained so much, and it is said that his liabili- 
ties came to no more than 4000, for which sum surely it 
was not meet to suffer such a man to be hunted to his 
grave by clamorous creditors, however just their claim 
or natural their exasperation. Somebody said, in natural 
enthusiasm, when it was announced that the author of 
Waverley was overwhelmed with debts, " Let every one 
to whom he has given pleasure give him sixpence, and he 
will be the richest man in Europe." Yes ! but the saying 
remained a very pretty piece of good-nature and pleasing 
appreciation, no one attempting to carry its suggestion 
out. Sir Walter would have accepted no public charity, 
but a public offering on such a grand scale, had it ever 
been offered, would not have shamed the proudest. These 
things are easy to say ; the doing only fails in our practi- 
cal British race with a curious consistency. It is well that 
every man should learn that his own exertions are his only 
trust ; but when that is said it is not all that there should 
be to say. 



Ti.J DECADENCE. 197 

" Where were they, these royal and noble persons " [Moore cries, 
with natural fervour of indignation], " who now crowded to ' partake 
the yoke ' of Sheridan's glory ; where were they all while any life re- 
mained in him ? Where were they all but a few weeks before, when 
their interposition might have saved his heart from breaking? or 
when the zeal now wasted on the grave might have soothed and 
comforted the death-bed ? This is a subject on which it is difficult 
to speak with patience. If the man was unworthy of the commonest 
offices of humanity while he lived, why all this parade of regret and 
homage over his tomb ?" 

And he adds the following verses which " appeared," he 
says, " at the time, and, however intemperate in their satire 
and careless in their style, came evidently warm from the 
breast of the writer " (himself) : 

" Oh ! it sickens the heart to see bosoms so hollow, 

And friendships so false in the great and high-born ; 
To think what a long line of titles may follow 
The relics of him who died friendless and lorn. 

" How proud they can press to the funeral array 

Of him whom they shunned in his sickness and sorrow ; 
How bailiffs may seize his last blanket to-day, 

Whose pall shall be held up by nobles to-morrow." 

When all these details which move the heart out of the 
composedness of criticism are put aside we scarcely feel 
ourselves in a position to echo the lavish praises which 
have been showered upon Sheridan. He was no con- 
scientious workman labouring his field, but an abrupt 
and hasty wayfarer snatching at the golden apples where 
they grew, and content with one violent abundance of 
harvesting. He had no sooner gained the highest suc- 
cesses which the theatre could give than he abandoned 
that scene of triumph for a greater one ; and when on 
that more glorious stage he had produced one of the 



198 RICHARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAN. [CHAP. 

most .striking sensations known to English political life, 
his interest in that also waned, and a broken, occasional 
effort now and then only served to show what he might 
have accomplished had it been continuous. If he had 
been free of the vices that pulled him to earth, and pos- 
sessed of the industry and persistency which were not in 
his nature, he would, with scarcely any doubt, have left 
both fortune and rank to his descendants. As it was in 
everything he did, he but scratched the soil. Those who 
believe that the conditions under which a man does his 
work are those which are best adapted to his genius will 
comfort themselves that there was nothing beyond this 
fertile surface, soon exhausted and capable of but one 
overflowing crop and no more, and there is a completeness 
and want of suggestion in his literary work which favours 
this idea. But the other features of his life are equally 
paradoxical and extraordinary; the remarkable financial 
operations which must have formed the foundation of his 
career were combined with the utmost practical deficiency 
in the same sphere ; and his faculty for business, for nego- 
tiation, explanation, copious letter-writing, and statement of 
opinion, contrast as strangely with the absolute indolence 
which seems to have distinguished his life. He could 
conjure great sums of money out of nothing, out of va- 
cancy, to buy his theatre, and set himself up in a lavish 
and prodigal life, but he could not keep his private affairs 
out of the most hopeless confusion. He could arrange 
the terms of a Regency and outwit a party, but he could 
not read, much less reply to, the letters addressed to him, 
or keep any sort of order in the private business on his 
hands. Finally, and perhaps most extraordinary of all, he 
could give in The Critic the deathblow to false tragedy, 
then write the bombast of Rolla, and prepare Pizarro 



Ti.] DECADENCE. 199 

for the stage. Through all these contradictions Sheridan 
blazed and exploded from side to side in a reckless yet 
rigid course, like a gigantic and splendid piece of fire- 
work, his follies repeating themselves, his inability to fol- 
low up success, and careless abandonment of one way after 
another that might have led to a better and happier fort- 
une. He had a fit of writing, a fit of oratory, but no im- 
pulse to keep him in either path long enough to make 
anything more than the dazzling but evanescent triumph 
of a day. His harvest was like a Southern harvest, over 
early, while it was yet but May ; but he sowed no seed for 
a second ingathering, nor was there any growth or rich- 
ness left in the soon exhausted soil. 

Sheridan's death took place July 7, 1816, when he was 
nearly sixty-five, after more than thirty years of active 
political life. His boyish reputation, won before this be- 
gan, has outlasted all that high place, extraordinary oppor- 
tunity, and not less extraordinary success, could do for his 
name and fame. 



THE END.